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Is Trademarking a Ski Saying More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

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I learned two things today. First, that Steamboat owns the phrase Champagne Powder™. Second, they are dead serious about enforcing it. In a post about the powder that was dumping in Tahoe, Unofficial Networks referred to the snow quality as Champagne Powder™, except no cute little ™ symbol or permission or ties to Steamboat or whatever it takes to use a trademarked phrase these days.

So, it wasn’t long before they got a cease and desist letter from Steamboat telling them to stop using the phrase. Turns out, Unofficial isn’t the only one to make this mistake, these groups have also received letters:

The comments on these posts have been less than friendly toward the Steamboat brand:

“No damages can be reasonably claimed, and such a move makes them look like dicks. Great PR move!”

“Well hell, this will win them lots of positive publicity. (NOT) The Steamboat corperate lawyers should be bent over and spanked.”

“Amazing – these clowns sent me the same crap after I used ‘CHAMPLAIN’ Powder in the Mad river Glen snow report after some lake enhanced snow last year. They must have something better to do with their time than this.”

“They really ought to copyright the term ‘New York and Texas Gaperists©’ because they’ve got way more of that than they do Champagne Powder©”

There were worse, much worse, comments than that but I’m trying to keep this blog G rated.

The Goal
For a reason why, I turned to a Trademarking company:

“A trademark is a great way to protect a business identity or “brand.” Customers rely on brands when making a purchase. New customers rely on the word of mouth that a “brand” generates. And a bold, unique brand can actually generate business by itself.”

So, on a broad scale, Steamboat is trying to make Steamboat and ________ powder (as Unofficial puts it) synonymous so when people think __________ powder, they think Steamboat. Makes sense.

The Problem
The issue is that the term has been around for a long, long time – 55-60 years according to a Wikipedia. This means that lots and lots of people are using it without ever realizing that, depending on the context, they could be violating Steamboat’s trademark. So, what happens when someone does use it inappropriately? They nail them with a cease and desist letter.

The second problem is that, to my knowledge, a cease and desist letter is in no way private and the fact you received one can be shared with your community which, almost inevitably, is going to side with you rather than with the corporation. This becomes especially easy / powerful with a little thing called social media – you may have heard of it.

The REAL Problem
I don’t think the problem is necessarily enforcing the trademark. Legally, they have that right. The problem is in the way it is handled. Instead of sending a C&D letter, what if the PR guy at Steamboat picked up the phone and gave them a quick phone call that went something like this:

“Hi, John? This is Steve from Steamboat, Colorado, how are you?…Great. I just had a quick thing I wanted to bring up. I am sure you didn’t mean to do this, but in one of your recent posts you used the term ‘Champagne Power’. A few years ago Steamboat actually got a trademark on that phrase so, technically, it can’t be used the way your post did. Like I said, you likely didn’t have any idea, we still have a lot of work to do in order to really make this term synonymous with our brand, but we’d appreciate it if you’d keep this in mind going forward…if you’re ever in Steamboat, let me know and I’ll give you a quick tour of the mountain. Thanks, John.”

Now, this likely wouldn’t make them instantly love the idea of Steamboat’s trademark on a common skiing term, but I can’t imagine the response would be as harsh as you’d see from a faceless, legal mumbo-jumbo filled cease and desist letter. If they keep violating, give them another reminder, and then, only if they keep on going would I send a C&D letter.

I think trademarks have a place in business, but when it’s for a term that many skiers have used for decades, I think this quickly becomes more of a PR issue than a legal one. Right now, I think it’s doing the Steamboat brand more harm than good.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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