The Washington Redskins have made clear that they have no interest in changing their team name, no matter how many people say they’re offended by it. But they’re now facing a renewed legal challenge that could change their way of thinking.
Archive for the ‘sports’ Category
People love March Madness. There’s no other competition in the United States so open ended. More than 60 of the nation’s premier college basketball teams compete with triumphs, upsets, and finish with an undisputed champion. Diehard and casual fans of college basketball fill out more than 40 million brackets each year trying and predict the winner. Even the president is in on it, and he’s no slouch. His bracket is currently ranked in the 98th percentile. March Madness lives up to its name. But it’s more than pure sports entertainment, there’s a fascinating legal aspect to its existence as well. The trademark “March Madness” was settled more than fifteen years ago when the courts decided the moniker was so important it deserved to be reclassified. Papers labeled it “case of the year” in trademark law.
The phrase march Madness actually began use as early as in 1939 when the term was included in a poem about the March tournament. The Illinois High School Association (“IHSA”) later applied it to their annual basketball tournament. It was billed as the premier high school tournament of the United States. It was even broadcast on national television. The IHSA filed for federal registration in the early 1990s, and received protection a few years later.
As they included more teams, the event grew in notoriety. In the early 1980s a Chicago sports caster began referring to the event as “March Madness” and it stuck. Importantly, the term was widely applied to the event by the public before the NCAA ever used it themselves. So when the IHSA filed for trademark of the phrase March Madness, the NCAA objected under their common law usage. The IHSA then filed suit against GTE Vantage, Inc., which was developing a basketball sport video game, licensed by the NCAA, called “NCAA Championship Basketball”. The words ‘March Madness’ were included on the cover and in the game itself.
This was a case of reverse confusion. The NCAA was the more recognizable establishment than the IHSA so the trademark became associated with them by the public. Even though the IHSA used the term far longer than the NCAA, they worried that their trademark would suffer brand confusion, or their tournaments would be misinterpreted as sponsored by the NCAA. Normally the senior user of a mark would stop the junior from applying it. But when the case came to court, the judge ruled otherwise. The Central District of Illinois judge decided the IHSA’s brand had become diluted by the NCAA. Its connotation created by the public sphere made a ‘dual-use term’ that applied to both users equally. The IHSA couldn’t control what the public applied the term ‘March Madness’ to, no matter how much it might damage their brand.
Forced to share the mark, the two organizations eventually created a limited liability corporation, the Match Madness Athletic Association (“MMAA”), to control the trademark. Both partners were made permanent licensors. The MMAA has protected the term “March Madness” since in court cases against other prospective sporting events, car sales, and website name infringement. In latter cases they found from their focus group that 83.7% of people had heard of March Madness and 70% associated the term with basketball.
Though the mark is strong in popular culture, it’s important to remember how it can serve as a wider lesson. Do not let your trademark lose its public significance, and take all efforts to make sure the public is aware of its real intention and application. Allowing your trademark to become public domain or synonymous with another product is self-defeating. Just like how picking teams for your bracket based on the ferocity of their mascots doesn’t do you any good and is self-defeating. Or ‘self-defeating’ like Florida State. Or Duke. You get the picture.
The District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania recently granted summary judgment in favor of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League regarding a lawsuit for trademark infringement of the “Terrible Towel” trademark. Beginning in 1975, at the initiation of radio broadcaster Myron Cope, fans of the Steelers have waved yellow and black colored rally towels depicting the words “Terrible Towel” as way to show support for the team during games. These towels have gained substantial public recognition due to the Steelers’ recent Super Bowl victory in 2008, thus making Steelers merchandise a top seller.
Non-profit organization Allegheny Valley School Foundation (“AVS”) is the owner of a federal trademark registration for the phrase “Terrible Towel” for use on goods such as T-Shirts, which has been in continuous use for over two decades. The Steelers are the exclusive licensee of this mark, which provides them the right to sell merchandise with the “Terrible Towel” mark.
The trademark infringement lawsuit was initiated due to the Defendant, Eugene Berry Enterprise’s, sale of T-shirts bearing the phrase “The Terrible T-Shirt a Pittsburgh Original” in black and gold coloring. The Defendant filed a federal trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in May of 2011 to register the “Terrible T-Shirt” phrase as a trademark for use on T-Shirts. After refusing to withdraw the application, Defendants placed orders for T-Shirts with the “Terrible T-Shirt” design printed in black and gold. Eugene Berry allegedly gave employees of National Retail Graphics a letter from AVS purporting to give permission to Eugene Berry Enterprises to sell the T-Shirts.
Under Federal law, in order to be successful in a federal trademark infringement lawsuit, the Plaintiff must prove the following elements: 1) the trademark in question is valid and legally protectable; 2) plaintiff owns the trademark in question; and 3) the defendant’s use of the Plaintiff’s mark in interstate commerce is likely to cause consumer confusion. The third prong, likelihood of consumer confusion, is determined by an application of several detailed factors.
District Court Judge Arthur J. Schwab found that the phrase “Terrible Towel” is legally protectable because it is not a descriptive term. Judge Schwab instead compared its trademark value to marks such as Kodak and Lifesavers, which are highly distinctive marks, thus indicating a high level of legal protection. Schwab emphasized the strength of “Terrible Towel” mark due to its highly visible use in sports television broadcasts and media articles, which has caused consumers to identify the towels with the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers franchise. Judge Schwab bolstered his conclusion that the “Terrible Towel” mark is famous due to the fact that towels bearing the mark have been taken into space and waved on the top of Mount Everest.
Judge Schwab further noted that the phrases and coloring of Defendant’s T-Shirts were similar to Plaintiff’s goods using its mark. Judge Schwab concluded by finding that Defendant’s T-Shirts were likely to confuse consumers into believing that the T-Shirts were official Steelers merchandise or otherwise sponsored by the Steelers, especially due to the fact that Defendant specifically marketed his T-Shirts to Steelers fans.
Read the full article here:
Luther Campbell, the former 2 Live Crew member, recently sued Miami booster Nevin Shapiro for slander and defamation for Shapiro’s statements appearing in a Yahoo! sports article.
The complaint alleges that Shapiro falsely stated that Campbell was involved in the recent University of Miami football players scandal.
Read the entire article here.
A Pompano Beach Man is preparing to sue several professional sports teams for a seven-syllable song played at many sporting events: “Da-da-da-da-da-da! Charge!”
The man claims that he wrote the song during his days at the San Diego Chargers, and now wants proper compensation for use of the song. Reports also indicate that there is some dispute as to whether he actually wrote the song.
Reports indicate that a Federal Judge recently overruled a previous ruling that would allow owners to use an accrued four billion dollar television fund should the NFL collective bargaining agreement expire Thursday.
Subsequent to the ruling, the NFL asserted that the fund would have no effect on any negotiations.
Read the entire article here: http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/NFL-cannot-use-TV-money-4-billion-as-work-stoppage-fund-CBA-030111?gt1=39002
Reports indicate that Jacksonville Jaguars player David Garrard and the National Football League (NFL) have sued Jacks or Better LLC who runs a Mayport-based gambling and casino cruise.
The allegations surround an action photo of Garrard that was displayed on Jacks or Better’s website. Further allegations discuss the use of Garrard’s right of publicity, as well as the Jaguars and NFL’s trademarks as featured on Garrard’s uniform.
“Fore!” might not be so outdated after all.
A New York Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that dismissed an injured golfer’s law suit against another golfer this week. Reports indicate that the injured Plaintiff was searching for his ball on the fairway when he was struck in the eye by another golfer’s errant ball.
The panel, in affirming the decision, discussed the inherent risk of playing any sport, namely Golf. Further, the ’shanked’ ball was not enough to fall under the exceptions of “reckless or intentional conduct,” or “concealed or unreasonably increased risks” of playing the game.
Reports indicate that the NBA Players’ Union is seeking to end the age restriction for entrance into the NBA.
The age restriction, which requires a player to be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft as well as at least one year removed from his high school graduation class, has been in place since the 2005-2006 season.
The University of Florida’s licensing company, Collegiate Licensing Company, has sent out cease-and-desist letters to schools that have been using its logo.
Schools using the Florida State University Seminole logo have also been asked to change their symbol, said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes.
“It’s not a UF or an FSU problem,” Sikes said. “It’s a nationwide issue of how do we deal with competing licensing agreements. And legally, the university has an obligation to protect its trademarks.”
Sikes said the issue that got CLC’s attention was the sale of Gator-branded merchandise.