DENVER — A Colorado business owner has received multiple cease and desist letters from Nike regarding his trademarked logo.
Stephen Fucik started his clothing brand, Skiman LLC, for winter sports enthusiasts. The business grew from his love of skiing.
"It's the ultimate freedom sport that you can do," said Fucik, who spends several weeks on the slopes each year.
Fucik applied for a federal trademark for a logo for Skiman LLC — described as "a skier performing maneuver called a daffy" — and went through the official trademark registration process with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2020. He received his trademark registration in December 2020.
After receiving the trademark, Fucik created an online presence and sold Skiman LLC merchandise featuring the logo. He was shocked when he received a cease and desist letter from Nike.
The letters claimed Skiman LLC's logo was confusingly similar to Nike's "Jumpman" logo. One letter asked him to “voluntarily cancel” his trademark. Another letter said Nike may pursue “any and all available legal remedies… to protect its valuable trademarks.”
Fucik insists he had no intention of infringing on Nike's trademark.
"I just thought of a logo that just resembled what it is to be free on the mountain," he told Denver7.
Fucik was surprised to learn Nike would confront a small business like his.
"I don't know how they found out about me," he said. "I know they have a team of lawyers that this is what they do is peruse the internet, and look up, you know, small businesses."
Fucik had hoped that having a registered trademark would protect him from such claims from other businesses. He said abandoning his logo could be the end of his clothing line.
"It's what my company is based off of, so it would completely destroy my company," he said of his logo.
Colorado-based trademark attorney Adrienne Fischer said trademarked businesses will often take legal action against other brands if they think there is a likelihood that consumers would be confused by the similarities. Legal action can help a business protect its brand and prevent infringement, but the fallout can be costly for small businesses.
"These business owners have to rebrand, and unfortunately, rebranding is very costly. And they go through the process again," said Fischer.
When a business owner applies for a trademark, they usually go through a strenuous process with the USPTO before they can receive an official trademark. The government office tries to weed out businesses that could be too similar to others. Fucik's trademark made it all the way through that process.
At one point in 2020 — when Fucik applied for the trademark — applications surged 63 percent over the previous year. According to the USPTO, the large increase in trademark applications was “caused in part by an increase in e-commerce during the pandemic." The USPTO even made changes like hiring more staff to process applications like the one Fucik submitted.
"It was hard, too hard, to know where an examiner was going to come down or what issues they would flag," said Fischer.
Fucik ultimately received approval from the USPTO and doesn't recall receiving any challenges from Nike until the process was complete. The USPTO's website does not indicate Fucik received any challenges from Nike during the registration process.
Fucik said he has tried to negotiate with Nike to no avail. He has no plans to give up his logo.
"I'm looking forward to the ski season," he said. "So am I ready to fight this? Yeah. I mean, sometimes you gotta do what's right. And I'm ready to fight for this."
This isn't Fucik's first legal battle regarding the logo.
Dane Burneson, former owner of Aksels, claims he has used the design since 2010. He told Denver7 he filed a cancellation petition of Fucik's logo trademark in April 2022, which led to a three-way trademark dispute between himself, Fucik and Nike.
"Fucik carbon copied a design I created and was using in commerce since 2010, long before his company ever existed, thus we were disputing his mark and use as well, until Nike got involved and I coincidentally was also in the process of selling Aksels, so we dropped our efforts," Burneson wrote to Denver7.
Denver7 reached out to Fucik for a response.
"Aksels did previously attempt to litigate Skiman. However, when the process neared discovery, it is my understanding, per my lawyers, that Aksels did not provide any evidence to support their claims, and the case was subsequently dropped," Fucik said. "Additionally, Aksels only initially became involved following Skiman delivering a cease and desist to Aksels upon discovering their use of the Skiman mark. I had no knowledge of an Aksels design prior to the creation and trademark of the Skiman logo, which I repeatedly expressed to Dane. He acknowledged, while he had trademarked various logos/gear, he never previously trademarked this design, and the merchandise it was used on was significantly limited and not marketed... His claims that the mark was 'carbon copied' are false, and he has no legal rights to the mark."
Denver7 reached out to Nike for a statement but did not receive anything as of publication of this article.