Small Businesses Fight to Keep Names, Livelihoods

Updated: 02/25/2013 10:46 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

The first legislation in the country dealing with trademark bullying is on the table in Minnesota. That's because three small businesses are fighting to keep their names and their livelihoods.

One man has turned to lawmakers at the State Capitol, hoping Minnesotans will help to take care of their own.

Robert Linden is just one man on a job site in Excelsior. But his story speaks for so many other small business owners in Minnesota.  Linden runs a spray foam firm called: Thermal-Wise Insulation.

He built a steady business as the name caught on with local customers. It also caught the attention of Questar, a large out-of-state company that happens to share a similar name for one of its programs: Therm-Wise. Although there's a small difference in name, Questar believes it's a big enough deal, it's suing Linden alleging trademark infringement. 

Linden says legal bills are killing his bottom line. His business is suffering, sales are down 70 percent from last year. You could hear it in his voice as he testified at the State Capitol Monday. 

Lawmakers listened. One is even proposing an alternative dispute process that would take less time and less money, perhaps saving dollars and just as importantly, jobs.

Rep. Joyce Peppin, District 34A says, "small companies just don't have resources to fight large companies when it comes down to trademark dispute."

"I'm intrigued of the David versus Goliath story where a bigger brand entity says hey, stop what you're doing," says Jim Lantz, a filmmaker.  That's why he brought a film crew to Minnesota, to point out the struggle of one business owner, who insists giving up the firm's name isn't an option for him, "if it saves one person from what I'm going through that would be enough for me," according to Rob Linden.

There's a federal court hearing in April between Robert Linden and Questar. 

We asked Questar for reaction to the proposed legislation. While the company can't comment to the specific lawsuit against Linden and Thermal-Wise, Questar spokesperson Darren Shepherd told us "we are very supportive of anything that makes the process simpler and less expensive, but protects our trademark."