Cancer nonprofit files legal action against Eddie Bauer

First Descents, a Colorado-based nonprofit helping cancer patients and survivors get outdoors has filed a legal action against Eddie Bauer concerning trademark infringement. SNEWS obtained the court documents, providing the first look at the case.
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A small Colorado-based nonprofit helping cancer patients and survivors get outdoors has a bone to pick with one of the bigger brands in the outdoor apparel and gear industry.

First Descents Inc. (www.firstdescents.org) announced Aug. 8, 2011, that it had filed a legal complaint in a Colorado U.S. District Court on Aug. 5, 2011, against Eddie Bauer for alleged trademark infringement. The nonprofit, founded in 2001 by Brad Ludden, claims Eddie Bauer is infringing on the organization's First Descents name and causing confusion with the launching of a “First Descent” line of snowsports gear and apparel.

According to the 17-page complaint obtained by SNEWS, the nonprofit registered the First Descents service mark in 2003; and later, in 2008, tried to register the mark for selling apparel to benefit the nonprofit, which it had been doing since 2001.

But the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suspended the nonprofit’s application in late 2008 after it was revealed that Eddie Bauer had already filed paperwork for the First Descent mark months earlier, along with additional trademarks for its First Ascent (www.eddiebauer.com/firstascent) line of apparel, launched in 2009.

First Descents claims Eddie Bauer was fully aware of the nonprofit organization and the potential for confusion when it filed for the trademarks. In a statement to SNEWS Eddie Bauer officials said the company owns the trademark rights to the First Ascent name dating back to 1988, and it applied for the First Descent name in early 2008 for use with apparel, gaining approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2011.

"We were surprised and disappointed by the suit and press releases from First Descents Inc.,” Eddie Bauer officials said in the statement. “We fully support First Descents as a non-profit organization and we want them to be successful in their mission. We are interested in resolving this in a manner that is satisfactory for both parties."

In court documents, First Descents states that it previously tried to work with Eddie Bauer to resolve the issue in September and October 2010, expressing concerns about confusion between the two brands, especially at events where both Eddie Bauer and First Descents athletes were participating. The nonprofit claims that people began to think that Eddie Bauer sponsored First Descents, even though there is no relationship. The nonprofit also claims damages by its impairment to now raise funds via its First Descents branded apparel.

“Despite First Descents’ protestations to defendants, Eddie Bauer has continued to free-ride on the goodwill that First Descents has built in its charitable activities and outdoor adventure community,” the complaint states.

First Descents offers young-adult cancer patients and survivors a free week of outdoor adventures including climbing, paddling, and surfing in the outdoors.

“While litigation was not my preferred path, it’s imperative that the experience we’ve provided for more than 1,000 young adults with cancer over the last 11 years, and that we continue to provide, is in no way confused with Eddie Bauer’s sponsored teams and retail clothing lines,” Ludden said in a statement.

To read a copy of the legal complaint, click here.

-- David Clucas

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