MINNEAPOLIS, MN (BRAIN)—Distribution giant Quality Bicycle Products filed a lawsuit late last week against competitor Sinclair Imports, online retailer Bike Baron and Lance Donnell, principal of both companies, alleging unfair competition, patent and copyright infringement and civil conspiracy.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota last Friday is 13 pages, but it boils down to this: QBP is accusing the Nevada-based Sinclair of using the Bike Baron site and an eBay site to sell directly to consumers while purporting to sell only through specialty retailers. Sinclair created Bike Baron to circumvent contractual obligations to its suppliers and “to secretly and unfairly compete” with its own retail customers and QBP, the suit says.
QBP also alleges that Sinclair uses numerous images to promote products on Bike Baron and the eBay store that were created, copyrighted and watermarked by QBP (the same products that are available to retailers through QBP).
QBP makes its product images available only to retailers who sign a subscription and licensing agreement with SmartEtailing, a company QBP’s owner Steve Flagg acquired a majority interest earlier this year.
Further, the page title of the Bike Baron website reads “Quality Bike Parts,” which comes up in a web search for Bike Baron, creating confusion about the source of the products. Sinclair has also targeted their ad and sales efforts in Minnesota, where QBP is based, the suit says.
Matt Moore, general counsel for QBP, said QBP had been monitoring Bike Baron and the eBay site for some time, but the last straw before going to court came when QBP discovered the web search result reading “Quality Bike Parts.” QBP is not particularly a litigious company—it’s sued just one other company in its 32-year history—but has recently made an internal decision to take a more aggressive approach to shutting sites down that violate its copyrights.
The time and money QBP spends to build the database of images and copy is substantial and protecting its property is high priority, QBP said in a press release issued Monday on the matter. Moore said the suit is QBP’s first action in the situation with Sinclair.
“We’re taking it seriously,” said Moore. “I worked for a judge for eight years resolving lawsuits. I’ve seen the other side, I know the expense, the frustration, the time consumption involved. That’s why it’s a tool we don’t use very often.”
Reached on his cell phone Monday afternoon while working at Outdoor Demo, Lance Donnell said he had not yet been notified of the lawsuit and could not comment until he read the allegations.
QBP is asking for an injunction to prevent Sinclair from using its trademarks and compensation for damages and attorney fees. The first hearing in the case will not be scheduled for at least six weeks, according to the court.