The Power of Trademarks—or rather Economic Power vs. Trademarks

I just (1/24/2013) read an interesting news item on trademarks and the NFL. It appears that the NFL has pressured a fan by the name of Roy Fox to abandon his federal trademark registration applications for HARBOWL and HARBAUGH BOWL. Fox was prescient to the success of the Harbaugh Brothers if not wise to the ways of the NFL. He actually filed to register the two Marks in February of 2012, well in advance of next week’s Super Bowl.

Even though Fox’ registration applications were a matter of public record shortly after filing, the NFL apparently wasn’t aware of them until they were published for opposition. Anyway, shortly before the 2012 season, Fox was advised that his filings to register weren’t in the best interest of the NFL, or in the jargon of the trademark lawyers, were likely to cause confusion in the minds of consumers as to the source or origin of fan-wear marked with the Fox trademarks.

Regardless of how likely, or rather, unlikely, the likelihood of confusion, the NFL lawyers are nothing if not persuasive. According to the news article, Fox was encouraged to abandon his registration applications by the NFL lawyers threatening him with the costs of litigation should they be forced to pursue the opposition. Fox didn’t need a lot of convincing. He abandoned the registration applications in October.

The article noted that the League has yet to register any sayings or slogans related to the February 3 Super Bowl where the Harbaughs’ Ravens and 49ers will face off. Actually, it would be a waste of money for the League to do so. They can authorize, or license, all the fan-ware imaginable in time for the game and rake in royalties until the last stitch of apparel is sold. The only thing the League needs to spend money on is lawyers to beat up on well-meaning and unsuspecting entrepreneurs like Fox.

P.S. While researching the Fox registrations, I noticed that another registration application for HARBOWL was filed by another naïve entrepreneur in Maryland, which hasn’t been detected by the NFL radar—yet. He filed to register HARBOWL four days ago. Another waste of a filing fee. Clearly, the filing of trademark registration applications is too easy: deceptively too easy. But, that’s the subject of another blog.

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