IDEA World 2017 is the 35th-annual version of a conference for the fitness industry which runs from this Wednesday, July 19th, through Sunday, July 23rd in Las Vegas, NV. A total of 10,000 people are expected at the event including fitness professionals, club and studio owners, nutrition professionals and brand representatives. The official website for the event touts more than 330 workshops, lectures and workouts, as well as more than 225 leading industry experts.
A floor plan of this year’s IDEA World convention shows that the first booth most people walking in the front entrance will be TRX, a developer and seller of suspension fitness training equipment. Founded in 2004 by Randy Hetrick, a former Navy SEAL and currently the CEO of TRX, the company develops and delivers training products and workout programs for trainers and athletic coaches; according to the company’s profile on Bloomberg, TRX caters to consumers ranging from fitness professionals and enthusiasts up through professional athletes with the NFL or UFC as well as military personnel.
TRX is a patent owner which has had to go to U.S. district court to protect its intellectual property from infringers. At the end of March, TRX was awarded $6.8 million in a patent case where a judge in the Northern District of California found that Woss Enterprises LLC committed willful infringement of the patents covering fitness suspension equipment asserted in the suit. TRX also sued on trademark infringement as well as federal and state law violations in that case.
As it is for any intellectual property owner, the infringement of TRX’s IP was gravely disconcerting to Mr. Hetrick, the inventor of TRX fitness suspension equipment. Some of his personal response to the discovery of the infringement is the subject of an interview given by Mr. Hetrick to Guy Raz, the host of the NPR podcast series How I Built This. The inventor spoke about developing the fitness equipment out of a need to stay in shape while on military deployment. Mr. Hetrick discussed attending business school at Stanford University and his inventor story, including how he developed relationships with individual trainers in order to painstakingly build his brand from the ground up.
But as Mr. Hetrick notes at about the 21st minute of the podcast, almost the minute that TRX became a financially successful operation, it became a target for counterfeiters unleashing knock-off products onto the marketplace. An “explosion” of counterfeits flooded the market and TRX identified about 20 factories across China which were contributing to the infringement. “That is the single biggest problem that I have faced in my career as an entrepreneur and, frankly, it is a problem that is bedeviling the entire consumer product space these days,” he said in the podcast.
TRX’s efforts to assert its intellectual property was made more difficult by the counterfeiters choice to stop putting the TRX trademark on the fitness equipment knock-offs. With counterfeiters selling a “sea of knock-offs” on Amazon, it caused a great deal of confusion on the market. Mr. Hetrick himself evinced feelings of anxiety, depression and fear at the entire counterfeiting scheme targeting TRX’s market. He even goes so far to note that “there was a period of time when I was thinking, ‘Well, I could make these guys go away. I have a certain skill set.’ But, you know, you have to look away from the light quickly and say, ‘No no no no no, this is not where your brain should go.’” (about 27:50 of the How I Built This podcast) He followed up by noting that fear management skills he learned as a SEAL gave him the ability to pursue his case despite the strong emotions it inspired within himself.
At this year’s IDEA World, TRX’s booth is very close to Aktiv Solutions, a distributor of fitness equipment. The two are only separated by one booth in between them run by the mind-body fitness firm Merrithew. Among the products distributed by Aktiv include a functional training ecosystem created by Gym Rax, a developer of modular storage and suspension solutions for fitness facilities. And Gym Rax recently filed a lawsuit alleging that TRX is committing trademark infringement.
On June 12th of this year, Gym Rax International filed a complaint for federal trademark infringement against Fitness Anywhere LLC, doing business as TRX, in the Central District of California. As the suit notes, Gym Rax sells its steel frame fitness equipment under federally registered trademarks, including “FUNCTIONAL TRAINING ECOSYSTEM” and “FACILITATING THE FUNCTIONAL”. These marks have been used by Gym Rax since at least early 2015 and Gym Rax has been assigned worldwide right, title and interest in the “FUNCTIONAL TRAINING ECOSYSTEM” by Fitness Ventures International, LLC, a fitness solution developer based in Santa Monica, CA. Gym Rax notes in the complaint that it invests heavily in online marketing on the World Wide Web, especially on its own website, and it has “expended considerable sums of money as well as the time and effort of employees and agents of Gym Rax” to create attractive displays and product descriptions.
Gym Rax alleges that, in January 2016, TRX entered into an agreement with Fitness Ventures to, among other things, sell certain fitness equipment bearing Gym Rax’s trademarks, including the brand name itself. The “GYM RAX” standard character mark is included on the steel frame rigs of the equipment “so there is no question as to the source of the steel frame rigs down the supply chain.” Gym Rax alleges that, in March 2017, it discovered that TRX was both offering for sale and selling fitness equipment similar to the Gym Rax steel frame rigs and storage systems using the Gym Rax marks. “On information and belief, Defendant [TRX] contacted a manufacturer in China to ‘knock-off’ the Gym Rax equipment and began selling equipment that was of lesser quality, yet continued associating the knock-off gym equipment with the Infringed Marks,” the complaint reads.
The Gym Rax complaint contains examples of TRX’s infringement of the Gym Rax marks on the TRX website. Gym Rax alleges that TRX kept using the marks despite the fact that Gym Rax was no longer the source of the equipment being sold by TRX. Besides its official website, TRX also uses the Gym Rax marks to promote products through TRX’s Facebook page. Customers browsing third party search engines will also find TRX’s website among the top listings in search results using the Gym Rax standard character marks as search terms. Gym Rax’s complaint also alleges that TRX also plagiarized certain elements of the Gym Rax website. “On information and belief, TRX also continues to market its knock-off gym equipment by falsely telling people at trade shows and other sales events that Gym Rax is the source of the gym equipment it sells.”
If any readers happen to be visiting the Las Vegas Convention Center for this week’s IDEA World 2017 conference, they won’t have to walk too far to see if the allegations made by Gym Rax have any merit. One exhibition stand is currently all that’s in the way of a simmering legal battle.