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3 trademark controversies brewing in the sports world

The Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Seahawks and college football coaches are all making trademark news

There’s no doubt that sports are a big business in the United States. College and professional sports generate money through ticket sales, television contracts and merchandise. But, in order to monetize merchandise, sports teams need to protect their trademarks, so they can sell hats, t-shirts and more with their unique logos and color schemes. And with big bucks comes big controversy, and three recent stories in the world of sports illustrate these trademark battles.


A college and a professional team are in a row over a blue jay logo, a fan is fighting his favorite team over a nickname he claims to have developed, and college football coaches are seeking to protect their own names.


Image courtesy of The Globe and Mail


Even blue jays get the blues


You’re a mid-sized college that has sported the same team nickname for more than a century, but in this day and age, you want to maximize the publicity you’re getting from basketball tournament appearances to sell merchandise. The problem? A professional baseball team with the same nickname feels that the recent redesign of your logo is a little to close to theirs. But how many ways are there to draw a blue jay?


The Toronto Blue Jays have a beef with the new blue jay logo of Creighton University. The Major League Baseball team has filed opposition with the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, claiming that the new Creighton logo looks too much like Toronto’s logo and could cause confusion among consumers. The two sides could conceivably reach an agreement outside of court.




12 is the unluckiest number


Seattle Seahawk fans are riding high after their team’s recent Super Bowl victory. Those fans have always had an interesting relationship to their football team, as they have prided themselves in being the “12th Man,” making enough noise at home games to distract and disrupt the opposing squad.


What started as an unofficial nickname has now become a subject of controversy, pitting one fan against the team he loves. Seahawk fan Chris Johnson received a Washington State trademark for “The 12s” in reference to fans of the team. But now, the Seahawk organization has filed for a national trademark for “The 12s” and several variations of the term. If the Seahawks receive the national trademark, that would wipe out Johnson’s claim to the term. Johnson has filed opposition, but he faces a difficult legal battle.



That’s my name, don’t wear it out


It’s not uncommon for entertainers to build merchandising empires around their own names, but most people would not imagine a college football coach to be in the same category as Madonna or The Rock. University of Southern California football coach Steve Sarkisian has decided to trademark his own nickname, “Sark,” so he can sell t-shirts and other merchandise. He is not the first college football coach to go down this road, as coaches such as South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and many more have obtained trademarks on their own names for the purpose of selling merchandise.





There are only so many good names for cars, it seems, so you have to take inspiration from somewhere. Nissan, it seems, is taking a cue from a bend in a Formula One racetrack, as it has filed for a trademark for “Eau Rouge” for use on a potential luxury car.




Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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