Trademarks Trending in the Sporting World - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Trademarks Trending in the Sporting World

Trademarks Trending in the Sporting World

During the last year, the sports world has experienced a recent uptick in high profile trademark news. Early in 2012, former New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin made headlines when he successfully trademarked the term “Linsanity”, a phrase that was widly associated with his meteoric rise to stardom.  Later that year, NFL sensation (perhaps more accurately described as “former NFL sensation”) Tim Tebow followed suit.  In late October, Mr. Tebow filed a trademark application that would cover “Tebowing” a move where he goes down on one knee and holds a clenched fist against his forehead in prayer during the course of a game. The weeks leading up to the Super Bowl have produced two new high profile stories. First, Super Bowl-bound quarterback Colin Kaepernick has followed Tebow’s lead and has applied for the trademark to his own signature move.  However, it is the second development of Super Bowl week that intrigues.

In August of 2012, Roy Fox of Indiana applied for the trademarks “Harbowl” and “the Harbaugh Bowl”, shorthand for a nickname should a Super Bowl between the San Fransisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens arise (coached by John and Jim Harbaugh respectively).  However, once these trademarks were filed, the NFL contacted Mr. Fox stating its concern that his trademark filings could be confused with the NFL’s trademark of “Super Bowl”.  The NFL placed continuous pressure on Mr. Fox, encouraging him to abandon the marks.  Mr. Fox offered to abandon his pursuit of the marks in exchange for several bequests, including Indianapolis Colts tickets, reimbursement of his filings cost, and perhaps most amusingly an autographed photo of commissioner Roger Goodell.  The NFL refused all of Mr. Fox’s requests and threatened to oppose his filing and request that he pay their legal fees.  After this exchange Fox dropped abandoned his filing, even though, legally, it isn’t clear if the NFL had much of a case.  Some have accused Mr. Fox of trying to extort the NFL, while others have labeled the league as overzealous bullies who are simply angry they didn’t think to trademark the term first. One fan commenter on the ESPN.com mused that “The NFL just wrote me a cease and desist letter because my cereal bowl is too close to Super Bowl. I now have to refer to it as my cereal large round dish or they threatened legal action.”  Did the NFL overstep its reach? Or was Roy Fox trying to extort the NFL by registering for a mark he had no business owning?

Joshua Rittenberg

Joshua Rittenberg is a second year law student and a Staff Editor at the IPLJ. He focuses on legal issues surrounding international intellectual property rights and emerging technologies.