David vs. Goliath: Ludden’s First Descents Files Trademark Complaint Against Eddie Bauer’s First Descents

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Place your bets on who’s going to win this one. On Aug. 8, First Descents Inc., a Colorado-based young adult cancer nonprofit founded by kayak star Brad Ludden, commenced trademark infringement litigation in the U.S. District Court against Eddie Bauer Licensing Services LLC and Eddie Bauer LLC to protect its trademark rights, reputation and goodwill.

“My goal has always been and will continue to be to protect the First Descents experience for our participants,” says Ludden. “Our mission is crucial to young adult cancer fighters and survivors. 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, continue to provide, is in no way confused with Eddie Bauer’s sponsored teams and retail clothing lines.”

If anyone knows about sponsorship, it’s Ludden, long backed by Dagger and Teva for his worldwide kayaking exploits. But his real passion lies in the philanthropic front. Founded by Ludden in 2001 as an adventure therapy whitewater kayaking camp for young adults fighting and surviving cancer, First Descents’ programs have since grown to include rock climbing, mountaineering and surfing.

Over the past few years, Ludden’s organization has become aware of significant consumer confusion in the outdoor community resulting from Eddie Bauer’s introduction of its First Ascent and First Descent retail outdoor clothing lines and its sponsored First Ascent outdoor teams that compete at the same outdoor events as First Descents’ fundraising teams. When efforts to eliminate confusion about a perceived affiliation between Eddie Bauer and First Descents failed, First Descents brought its lawsuit to protect its trademark rights and its associated branded camp and team apparel from confusion in the outdoor community.

Eddie Bauer, meanwhile, is sticking to its guns. “We were surprised and disappointed by the suit and press releases from First Descents,” the company issued in its official corporate statement. “We fully support First Descents as a non-profit organization and we want them to be successful in their mission.

“With regard to the First Ascent name, Eddie Bauer owns the trademark rights dating back to 1988, substantially pre-dating the existence of First Descents Inc.,” the company adds. “In regards to the First Descent name, we applied for registration from the US Patent and Trademark Office for the apparel category in 2008 and the registration was granted in 2011. Nevertheless, we are interested in resolving this in a manner that is satisfactory for both parties.”

Still, Ludden’s group wants the confusion to end. “When Eddie Bauer launched its ‘First Ascent’ and ‘First Descent’ product lines, and began marketing efforts at the same events where we had an established presence, our ability to distinguish our organization’s outdoor adventure therapy programs was lost,” maintains COO Kelly Malin.