Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, odds are you have heard of Jeremy Lin and the Linsanity bringing Madison Square Garden to its feet. Thanks to Lin, the Knicks have won eight of their last nine games (the Knicks face the Nets tonight). Lin’s story is one for the books. He was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, after only three games, and has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Needless to say, the country is enthralled by the Harvard grad. So enthralled, that it hasn’t taken long for people to capitalize on Lin.
In the two weeks since Linsanity began to sweep across the nation, three people have filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the trademark “Linsanity.” The first of these was submitted by Michael Yenchin Chang, a California businessman, who filed his application on February 7th, and has stated that he is willing to sell the trademark to Lin. The second application was filed on February 9th by Andrew Slayton, a former volunteer coach at Palo Alto High School, Lin’s alma mater. Slayton has been selling Lin t-shirts since he purchased the domain name, www.linsanity.com, in 2010. Under trademark common law, Slayton would appear to have the upper hand. Generally, the first person to use a term specifically to sell goods or services has senior trademark rights in that term. Although Slayton filed his application after Chang, Slayton has been using the term in the sale of commerce since 2010.
Unfortunately for both of these entrepreneurs, the third person to file for a trademark was Lin himself, who filed his application on February 13th. Pursuant to federal trademark law, if a trademarked term is associated with the name of a living person, permission is required from that person. Furthermore, many states, including California, grant a right to publicity, aiming to protect celebrities from the commercial use of their names without their permission. So it appears that Chang and Slayton, particularly Slayton, are on shaky ground legally, and they better watch their backs since Lin is now on the offensive.