By Kiel Christianson,
I was recently contacted by Ogio, maker of a diverse line of golf bags (as well as other sports and travel bags), about whom I have written several times in the past. It seems that the company had recently become aware that two other bag manufacturers were marketing bags with the same names as models in the Ogio lineup.
Interestingly, what tipped off Ogio was a review of the Burton Syncro bag, which had just been published in these pages. And, along with the Burton offering, Ogio pointed out two bags by Sun Mountain, the Atlas and the Diva, which also find doppelgangers in the Ogio line.
So, what's the big deal? The titles to novels or songs or movies, after all, cannot be copyrighted. I could publish a novel titled "War and Peace" tomorrow, or record a song called "Fire and Rain," and be perfectly within my rights.
Problem is, product names can be trademarked. And, according to Kelly Mooney, Ogio spokesperson, that company, "intend(s) (their names) to work much like car names (i.e., Ford Taurus, Expedition, Explorer, etc.) with updated models made available each year."
Therefore, in the eyes of Ogio, other companies offering bags with the same monikers as theirs represent a problem. "Naturally," explained Mooney, "with these other companies now copying our bag names, we are losing the equity value of these product names in question."
According to the company, its Atlas bag had been released in 2005, and Ogio's Diva bag debuted in 2006. Neither of those names had been trademarked by Ogio, however.
When I contacted Sun Mountain, spokesperson Steve Snyders did some digging into old Sun Mountain catalogues. He says that that company's Atlas, a travel bag, first appeared in print in 2004, and its Diva bag, introduced in 2005, first appeared in a catalogue in 2006.
The plot thickens.
It seems Sun Mountain had not appropriated the Ogio names, after all.
Snyders explained Sun Mountain's procedure for choosing a name for a new bag as follows:
"Sun Mountain runs a trademark search prior to naming a new product. New product names being considered remain in consideration if the name does not appear in the search. Sun Mountain trademarks some names and not others depending upon the length of time that the name is likely to be in use. For instance, a more broad category name such as Speed Cart or RainFlex is trademarked, where[as] an individual bag name like Diva may not be."
In short, Snyders maintained that Sun Mountain practices due diligence: "If others are using a name without a trademark, then our search would not uncover that usage."
With the ball back in Ogio's court, Mooney confirmed that his company, too, searches the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office's database, as well as performs a Google search for similar products with the same names.
Ogio's Atlas (a cart bag), said Mooney, "first was used in early 2005 and appeared on the 2006 bag, which was released in Fall 2005. The Ogio 'Diva' name was locked in for production purposes in early 2006, for a late summer 2006 introduction. I have been trying to search for any use of the Diva name by Sun Mountain prior to that date but can only find 2007 and 2008 models."
Perhaps bag companies should send each other their catalogues. It might save some trouble later.
When I contacted ForeFront Golf, parent company of Burton, I was told that Ogio's information was, in this case, correct. The Burton Syncro had just been introduced for the 2007/08 line of cart bags.
David Triptow, Jr., vice president of international development, responded to my inquiries into Bag-gate as follows:
"It is not uncommon that another company may have used the name in the past and has nothing to do with that item - as our term is the Burton Syncro. Most companies stay away from names that may be trademarked - but at the same time do not trademark the style name unless there is some innate longevity to the name going forward."
Although some companies, like Ogio, envision using a name for yearly revisions on, and iterations of, a given style, it appears that others, like Burton, do not. In Triptow's view, "As most golf bags have a short life cycle, (any given) name will go back on the list of names to use in the future - as the next model will typically be associated with a new name and style number."
No harm, no foul, it seems, at least in Burton's eyes.
As for Ogio, upon learning of Sun Mountain's reported earlier use of the names in question, Mooney expressed surprise, tinged, it seemed, with frustration.
"In this day when securing trademarks are prohibitively expensive for smaller manufacturers," asked Mooney, "how does one go about confirming that a name has not already been in use? Other than using (traditional searches), there are few tools available that help manufactures find exclusive names that do not infringe on someone else's product."
And it would seem that, short of spending that money on trademarking names, Mooney is correct.
As for consumers, if they are searching for a particular style of bag, it appears that they'll need to make sure they get both the style name and manufacturer name straight before they buy.
March 3, 2008
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.