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Meet the Company That Trademarked the Word 'Spin'

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Be careful when using the words "spin," "spinning, or "spinner" because a company in California actually owns them—and there's a good chance they'll come after you if you use the words when referencing other businesses.

Following various fitness stories Racked wrote, we received a "cease and desist" letter from a company called Mad Dogg Athletics. Never heard of them? They are an LA-based company that trademarked the "spin" terms some 20 years ago, a prescient move considering the recent full-on boom of cycling studios. To Mad Dogg, our use of "spin" as a general term is incorrect. In their world, the word is actually a precise type of indoor cycling and it cannot be used unless it's referring to them or their equipment.

Mad Dogg says co-founder Johnny Goldberg invented spinning in the late eighties, back when he started a cycling group in his garage. The term was trademarked in 1993, and John Baudhuin, Mad Dogg CEO, founded the company in 1994. Mad Dogg now manufactures, distributes and develops fitness products and programs across the globe. In order to legally be affiliated with "spin," fitness instructors and centers must train through Mad Dogg athletics.

The company currently has over 200,000 certified instructors and 35,000 licensed facilities; gyms like Crunch and New York Sports Club are certified through Mad Dogg, while chains like Equinox, SoulCycle and Flywheel are not—and therefore, cannot use the term "spin."

Mad Dogg chases down countless companies, demanding they instead replace "spin" with the term "indoor cycling." Somehow, "spin" does not fall under the same guideline as "Pilates," "yoga," and "karate," which, according to an October 2000 Manhattan federal court decision, are considered exercise methods and cannot be trademarked.

"The issue we face is that we've created a category of exercise, just like Zumba or jazzercise, and we've had companies create counterfeit products," Baudhuin told Racked. "We spend almost a million dollars a year protecting our brand because it's our responsibility to make sure everyone understands what our brand means."

Mad Dogg has certified more than 20,000 spin instructors.

Baudhuin insisted the company's concern over the use of "spin," "spinner," and "spinning" is directed towards customers and not their own pride.

"We have a certain culture about our company, and we promise that experience to our customers. We've been doing this for twenty years, and companies then come and take your hard work and essentially create an inferior product," he said. "We need to be consistent with what spinning is about and make sure we maintain a certain level of quality."

Baudhuin said Mad Dogg has previously sued companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart, among many others. The company has also gone after gyms, including one in Denmark, which made headlines in 2010. Mad Dogg said their version of "spin" does not reflect the tactics practiced by SoulCycle and Flywheel: those gyms, in their words, do "silly things like use things that hang from the ceilings, or lift weights," which are not as safe under Mad Dogg practices, according to Rhona Attwater, who oversees the company's trademark department.

"Our main battle with the media is that they are using the term generically, when they are not actual spinning facilities," Attwater said. "Most of the problem lies within New York, because there's a fitness craze there and facilities get a lot of attention by using the wrong words."

Jay Galluzzo, the CEO and founder of Flywheel, told Racked he understands Mad Dogg's attempt to protect its product. He said his company's inability to use the word "spin" is certainly limiting when he needs to clarify to people what Flywheel is and isn't, but noted that they offer something "holistically different" than Mad Dogg.

"While the trademarked term has become part of vernacular, it's just not what we do," Galluzzo said. "We have a different way of teaching and our technology is completely different. We enhance the experience, like setting all the music to the rhythm of riding. We try to respect their intellectual property. We have elements of our own."

A company going the full length to protect their trademark is neither a new nor innovative notion. Kleenex does not appreciate calling other tissues by their name, and Speedo is not pleased when other banana-hammock bathing suits are affiliated with its brand, Galluzzo notes. Hell, even the Bob Marley estate said yesterday they are going after a chicken fingers company for invoking the term "one love" without their permission.

Whoops. ABC News refers to SoulCycle as spinning.

But some won't abide by Mad Dogg's rules, like ABC News, who refers to both SoulCycle and Flywheel as "spinning," or gyms like the Under Group Spin Club in Miami, which combines cycling and dances moves (is that even possible?) and is a direct violator of Mad Dogg's trademark.

Others do not seem to care.

"Why nit pick about the name? It's been called spinning for years, that's how people know it, it's lame to even mention it," wrote one annoyed reader on the Indoor Cycling Association's blog.

"The words are generic. They are part of the exercise vocabulary. They mean what we want them to mean. The person leading the class, the manager directing the program and hiring the instructors, and what the participants perceive they were following for that hour are the main components. Every time someone brings publicity, as long as no one was injured, there is something good," noted another.

Baudhuin said ultimately, the company is not trying to be defensive and does not want to come after gym facilities and media, but is left with no choice but to protect the brand.

"We're not trying to be heavy-handed or be an enemy to the media. We're just trying to educate about what spin actually is, and if a gym wants to have a spin class, they can become certified through us," he said.