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Trek sued over use of the Farley name on fat bikes

Published September 15, 2017
UPDATED: Trek calls suit "groundless."

LOS ANGELES (BRAIN) — A company that claims to own the rights for the late comedian Chris Farley's intellectual property has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Trek Bicycles in a California court, claiming that Trek's Farley fat bike models capitalize on the name without permission.

Farley died in 1997. The plaintiff, which says it owns and has licensed the Farley intellectual property, is Make Him Smile Inc., whose president is Kevin Farley.

The suit points out that Trek Bicycle Corp. CEO John Burke lives in the same Wisconsin community — the Village of Maple Bluff, adjacent to Madison — where Farley was born. It claims the Farley and Burke families socialized and attended the same country club.

A Trek spokesman called the suit "groundless," and said the company was surprised by the suit because the company was in discussions with the Farley family to resolves their concerns.

"Trek has never used Chris Farley’s likeness, image or endorsement in connection to its Farley line of bikes." — Trek's Eric Bjorling

While Trek marketing does not directly indicate the bike was named for Farley, the suit points out that bike magazine reviews regularly made the connection and says Trek never sought to correct the record.

Trek officials were not immediately available Friday to comment on the suit, filed at LA County's Superior Court.

The suit said Trek chose the Farley name because "they know Farley was well known to the specific and targeted generation of consumers that tend to purchase Fat Bikes, and that by creating an association between the 'loud,' 'fat,' 'Midwestern' Farley and the Farley Branded "Fat Bike" Products, they would be able to attract the attention of such consumers who immediately recognized the Farley name and its association with 'fat,' 'loud,' 'wide' and 'Midwestern' goods and services."

The suit also alleges that a 2013 recall of Farley bikes damaged and devalued the Farley name.

The suit said Make Him Smile notified Trek of its unauthorized use of the name In October 2016, and that Trek's attorneys responded in writing but did not indicate they would stop using the name.

The complaint accuses Trek of common law misappropriation, false endorsement and California business code violations. It said it believes damages will be found to be more than $10 million and is also seeking legal fees, punitive damages and an order for Trek to stop selling Farley bikes.

According to a Hollywood Reporter article, Make Him Smile Inc. lost a suit against an alleged cybersquatter on the web domain because Make Him Smile could not prove to an arbitrator that it owned the rights to the name. 

In the complaint, Make Him Smile said it has registered as successor-in-interest to Farley's property rights with the California Secretary of State. It said it has rights to "Farley's name, likeness, image, voice, persona, signature and other intellectual property comprising Farley's personal attributes (the "Farley IP")."

According to the filing, the registration was made in June this year by Make Him Smile, whose president was listed as Kevin Farley. Chris Farley's younger brother Kevin is an actor. 

Trek spokesman Eric Bjorling said, "Frankly, we were really surprised by this lawsuit. Trek has never used Chris Farley’s likeness, image or endorsement in connection to its Farley line of bikes. In fact, Trek owns a registered trademark for Farley for bicycles registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"Trek remains willing to try to resolve any concerns with the Farley family’s representatives in an amenable manner. If necessary, however, we will vigorously defend ourselves against this groundless lawsuit," Bjorling said.

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