Citi Bike comes to life in New York with the usual online opportunists in tow

Citybike - operators should be mindful of trademark abuse on their highly visible brand…

New Yorkers are often said to be a brusque bunch. Having lived here for nearly six years, I am not so sure that this is a completely fair perception. Sure, there are surly commuters aplenty each morning, and a general lack of patience with those slow walking tourists sporadically thrusting their cameras vertically in to the air; but show me a large metropolitan city where that is not the case? However, one thing New Yorkers can be counted on for, is having an opinion. Be it cuisine or theater, sports or politics, residents of the Big Apple rarely sit on the fence. Recently,  a local issue seems to have caused more of a stir than in the past; a stir bordering on either civic unrest, or a new golden age of alternative public transport (depending on your point of view), as one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s final flourishes in political office: the launch of the NYC bike share scheme, Citi BikeTM.

The program has somewhat of a long history as Mayor Bloomberg seeks to leave a lasting impression, dare say it a legacy on the city. Bike lane installation was stepped up over five years ago, and the Department of Transport has spent much time and money studying other much vaunted schemes in London, Paris and Washington amongst others. Plenty of time then for the pro and anti groups to make themselves heard. With any local uproar comes the usual town hall meetings, public consultation, occasional placard wielding and so on, but what about when the disquiet moves, as is always the case in this day and age, online too? A quick search of Google images yields a number of blogs depicting defaced or stickered bike stations, whether it is to object to the ruining of a local park, or the advertising adorning the bikes themselves. ‘Conservation areas have been ruined’ so we are told from the blogosphere. Similarly, there are a growing number of facebook posts and tweets referencing the subject from all angles.

And what about registering domain names? Well, as with any publicized product or service launch, and one cannot imagine how this could have been kept secret for very long given its very public nature, domain name opportunists usually tend to strike. Compared to a movie release or large national or international event, Citi Bike seems to have to fared reasonably well in managing domain names. As of today there were 59 gTLDs containing the string “citibike”. Unsurprisingly, the trademark for Citi Bike is owned by Citigroup. The scheme operator NYC Bike Share LLC owns 13 of the 59 registrations with the majority of the remainder, the usual, pay-per-click opportunities taking advantage of appending words such ‘app’, ‘map’ or ‘repairs’ on to the ‘citibike’ string. One enterprising local law firm specializing in representing cyclists has a number of 'Citi Bike crash' and 'Citi Bike lawyer' domain names forwarding to their firm’s website. This seems like a perfectly good idea given the bike scheme does not enforce the use of helmets. Quite what a ‘UDRP’ panelist would make of the active use of the Citi Bike trademark is another matter.

The operators and supporters of the NYC Bike Share have had a great deal on their plates recently making the transport dream a reality. However, as the scheme continues to pervade the city’s consciousness the operators would do well to be mindful of their (highly visible) brand and of their distinct trademark being used, and possibly abused, particularly online as opinion continues to divide the city. I am sure it won’t be long until online scams and branded phishing emails rear their heads too.

And perhaps as in London, where the moniker ‘Boris Bikes’ has usurped the official sponsor Barclays in the London vernacular, Mayor Bloomberg will only be happy if history refers to this monumental, often controversial bike share scheme as ‘Mike’s Bikes’. One thing is for sure: is owned and used by chain of Californian bike stores. I’m sure they won’t be too upset at the possible uplift in web traffic.


Written by Luge Pravda, Senior Vice President, NetNames USA

31 May 2013