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L.L. Bean, the 5,000-employee megastore, sells annually about $1.5 billion in boots, clothing, and outdoor equipment.
Alfwear, a 60-employee competitor, sells enough outdoor clothing to keep growing in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountain Range in Utah.
So why is the little-known company suing the household name? Because the upstart owns "The Outsider" trademark, and L.L. Bean's ad campaign says, "Be an Outsider."
L.L. Bean has been around since 1912, when Leon Leonwood Bean founded the one-room operation. A hunter and fisherman, Bean started by selling one product -- waterproof boots.
Today, the company occupies a 220,000-square-foot building in Maine. It is open year-round and welcomes more than three million visitors a year.
Kevin Boyle, a life-long outdoorsman, started in the business in 1986 with a life savings of $2,300. Before that, he was unemployed and living in a snow cave.
Alfwear, now operating under KUHL, has about 1,000 accounts in the United States. REI is its biggest customer.
In its federal lawsuit, Alfwear says that L.L. Bean is confusing and misleading the public with its "Be An Outsider" campaign. It accuses the company of "trading on Alfwear's reputation and good will."
Alfwear alleges violations of the Lanham Act and unfair competition. The company also seeks injunctive relief to stop the ad in any publication.
The court will decide whether the ad violates any trademarks, but it has already made an impact on the public. A full-page ad in the New York Times appears almost blank until it is read in sunlight, where the company message appears:
"Because on the inside, we're all outsiders," it reads. "And if it's outside, we're all in."
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