Academy Versus Academi
The private security firm once known as Blackwater changed its name (for the second time) to Academi last year. Katy-based Academy Sports and Outdoors has cried foul, filing a federal lawsuit.
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Academy Sports and Outdoors, based in Katy, is the sporting goods store where you go for jogging shorts, a Cowboys jersey, hunting gear, or sunglasses. It’s not where you go to find a bodyguard, or hire private soldiers to help out your Army while at war on foreign soil.
For that, you’d probably want a company like Blackwater, the infamous private security firm worst-known for its involvement in the 2007 deaths of seventeen Iraqi civilians.
Except that after all that bad publicity, Blackwater changed its name to Xe in 2009. But since “Xe” sounds like a techno-metal band that would get a 6.2 from Pitchfork (it’s actually from the Periodic Table of Elements) that name didn’t take. In December of 2011, the North Carolina-based (but Delaware-registered) company became Academi.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Houston, says the similarity of the two names will sow confusion in the public mind and cause Academy “irreparable harm” given Academi’s corporate history and “the negative media coverage stemming from its security operatives in Iraq.”
Four former Blackwater guards face manslaughter charges in connection with a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The company has settled a series of civil lawsuits spawned by the incident.
While Academi’s bread-and-butter may be, as one trademark application cited in the suit notes, “training services in the field of personal and physical security, home defense, high risk security, firearms, gunsmithing, driving, counter-terrorism, vehicle commandeering, military and tactical techniques,” it also has a website, Academi Pro Shop, which offers not just company-branded swag and “tactical” equipment, but also plain old Salamon footwear and gun accesories.
By way of example, if customers of Defendant experience inferior service, purchase inferior goods, or read bad press published about Defendant, they may mistakenly attribute that bad experience or connotation to Academy due to Defendant’s use of marks similar to the Academy Marks. Customers also may mistakenly associate Defendant’s prior name, Blackwater USA, with Academy, thereby wrongly connecting Academy to substantial negative media coverage regarding Blackwater USA’s activities in Iraq and elsewhere. This is heightened by Defendant’s sale of similar goods to the same or similar customer base using similar advertising channels in connection with the marks.
Academi spokesman John Procter told Ronnie Crocker of the Houston Chronicle via email that the company’s name “is a modern representation of Plato’s Akademia, which was established in the third century B.C. as an institution rooted in higher wisdom and skill that produced the best thinkers and warriors alike.”
But this would also, by definition, be true of Academy, even if founder Max Gochman didn’t care about the word’s Greek linguistic roots when he opened the first Academy Tire store in San Antonio in 1938. Coincidentally, Academy was primarily a military surplus store from 1939 until the 1980s (it was called “Academy Super Surplus” for much of that time). The company, which has more than 140 stores in the Southwest and Southeast, was sold by the Gochman family to the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co last year.