Trademark dispute causes this veteran entrepreneur to ‘adjust fire’

Matt Saintsing
September 19, 2018 - 5:20 pm

Courtesy of Spartan Zero Six

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The United States has long been the center of entrepreneurship, but Americans are less likely to start their own business now than any time in the past 40 years. Part of that is when big players intimidate the “little guy,” they are less likely to take risks, and at times, are forced to adjust, adapt, and overcome. 

That's precisely what happened to Michael "Mongo" Minotto, a Marine veteran and current active duty sailor, who owns a growing apparel company.

Minotto was in business a little over a year when a trademark challenge over the branding of Spartan Zero Six upended his small start-up. 

On August 23, 2018, the last day Minotto’s trademark application could be disputed, Spartan Race, Inc.—a company that organizes obstacle race events and sells apparel—challenged the application and went so far as to list court dates for legal action, extending into the year 2020. 

The issue at hand is the word “Spartan,” which is on display across Spartan Zero Six’s shirts. 

Both Minotto and his attorney call this a bullying tactic by Spartan Race, knowing well the much smaller company didn't have the resources to fight back. 

“It would cost me more than what my company is worth right now to fight it,” says Minotto, a former Marine who currently serves on active duty the Navy in Guam. “The thing is, on our t-shirts across the front it says ‘Spartan Zero six,’ and they are saying I’m branding my clothing with the name Spartan,” says Minotto. 

“Spartan” can be seen on everything from other apparel companies to college mascots. Minotto says he got the idea for his company based on his call sign from his 2007 deployment to Iraq. He’ll rebrand his clothing as Acaean Legion, in keeping with the Greek warrior theme, but will still retain his company’s name. 

Courtesy of Spartan Zero Six

Spartan Race did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Peter Willsey, a trademark lawyer with Cooley—a law firm in Washington, D.C. — told Connecting Vets this practice is common. “Usually when companies file an opposition, they do it on the very last day,” he says. “This isn’t unusual.” 

The crux of the situation is the prospect that Spartan Race’s apparel could be confused with Spartan Zero Six’s products. The notice of opposition that Spartan Race filed contains several trademarks that feature the word “Spartan.” 

As long as Spartan Race has not sent a cease-and-desist letter or filed suit in federal court, says Willsey, what they’ve done is only challenge his registration of the trademark. “If Spartan Race wanted to get them to stop selling those shirts, they’d have to go to court,” he says.

Minotto says that hasn’t happened, but he’s still electing to rebrand his line. Spartan Zero Six earned about $10,000 in sales last year, a number Minotto says will be doubled this year. 

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