When Stubbornness Engenders Legal Squatting: A Football Lesson - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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When Stubbornness Engenders Legal Squatting: A Football Lesson

When Stubbornness Engenders Legal Squatting: A Football Lesson

The National Football League’s (“NFL”) 2020 season is a strange one, to say the least.1 It is the first time since World War II that the league suffers from a dearth of players (at least, players who meet the league’s high standards of play).2 The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the world in an unprecedented fashion, the likes of which were vastly unpredictable. However, another surprising development now further complicates this year’s unprecedented NFL season. This is the first time in the NFL’s history that a team is playing without selecting an “official name.”3 It is bad enough that fans must now root for their teams from afar, but asking them to cheer for a team with no name is preposterous.

Sadly, this is now a reality. After much activism and public outcry, Dan Snyder, the owner of the NFL’s Washington Redskins finally conceded and removed the team’s name.4 For years, the team’s name was widely defined as a slur, and calls for its change reverberated throughout the country.5 Interestingly, the team’s leadership decided that there was not enough time before the start of the 2020 NFL season to choose a new name, electing instead to adopt the moniker “The Washington Football Team.”6 While the team posits that there simply was not enough time to formulate and select a new name, the true impediment may have been one of potential intellectual property proportions. Beginning in 2014, a fan of the Washington Redskins began filing trademark claims for potential team names, eventually reserving and legally registering more than 44 possible names.7 Some names registered by Philip McCauley8 includes the Washington Monuments, Washington Veterans, Washington Warriors, and many others.9 Further, McCauley claimed that he merely intended to push the team into changing the derisive team name by trademarking a multitude of potential replacement names.10 Although McCauley claims that he offered his trademarks to Snyder’s team, he says they have yet to reach out.11 It is worth noting that he also stated that he in no way meant to impede the team’s name selection process and does not want to obstruct their mission.12

Resultant of McCauley’s innumerable registrations are various accompanying trademark protections. The Lanham Act13 affords trademark registrants a slew of protections from infringement, misuse, and misappropriations (among others) of their registered marks.14 Additionally, and potentially relevant to this strange turn of events, is the idea that one may license their registered trademarks to others.15 Were Snyder to pursue that option, and as with many forms of licensing deals, the costs to him and his team (aiming to obtain one of McCauley’s registered trademarks) are potentially enormous. McCauley recounted that he spent well over $20,000 registering his marks, and (although it is conjecture) there is always the possibility that he would seek to recoup some of those costs in a deal with the team.16

Ultimately, the issue of trademark squatting is very real. Businesses rely on the ability to register trademarks to protect themselves from competitors.17 Trademark squatters often register trademarks for the sole purpose of reserving the trademark rights so the parties seeking to use the mark will pay them for the rights.18 Experts in the field suggest that people should register the relevant marks before squatters can get to them to prevent these issues.19 In the past, Snyder attempted to register a new name for his team, the Washington Warriors.20 However, since then, he has been unable to complete the registration,21 leaving the team without a proper name.22 While trademark squatting is an issue in our country, it is likely that Snyder now suffers more from his past stubbornness than from the squatting. Snyder could have registered the “Warriors” moniker over 15 years ago but instead chose to abandon it.23 For now, it seems that the Washington Football Team is here to stay.

  1. See Mike Florio, 2020 could be strangest NFL season since 1943, ProFootballTalk (July 30, 2020, 10:48 AM), https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2020/07/30/2020-could-be-strangest-nfl-season-since-1943/ (last visited Oct 26, 2020) [https://perma.cc/JDG7-Q4YX].

  2. Id.

  3. See Andrew Beaton, Why Washingtons NFL Team Hasn’t Picked a Name—and Could Keep Its Interim One, The Wall St. J. (Sept. 13, 2020, 11:04 AM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-washingtons-nfl-team-hasnt-picked-a-nameand-could-keep-its-interim-one-11600009482 (last visited Nov. 11, 2020) [https://perma.cc/9VJS-DA88].

  4. See id.

  5. See id.

  6. See id.

  7. See T.J. Macias, Washington Redskins are no more. But a trademark hobbyist snatched up the good names, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (July 13, 2020, 11:31 AM), https://www.star-telegram.com/news/nation-world/national/article244186777.html (last visited Nov. 11, 2020).

  8. McCauley is a 61-year-old actuary and a fan of the franchise since the 1980s. See id.

  9. Id.

  10. See Allen Kim, One man holds multiple trademarks on potential Washington Redskins replacement names, CNN (updated July 14, 2020, 2:20 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/14/us/washington-nfl-trademark-spt-trnd/index.html (last visited Nov. 11, 2020) [https://perma.cc/F4RP-BWYN].

  11. Id.

  12. Id.

  13. Codified at 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051-1150 (1946).

  14. See S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. v. Nutraceutical Corp., 835 F.3d 660 (7th Cir. 2016).

  15. See 15 U.S.C. § 1055 (1946).

  16. See Barry Werner, Washington NFL teams next hurdle: Trademark squatter, Touchdown Wire (July 13, 2020, 1:08 AM), https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2020/07/13/washingtons-next-hurdle-trademark-squatter-daniel-snyder/ (last visited Nov. 11, 2020) [https://perma.cc/L4L9-8TR5].

  17. See Scott Baldwin, Dont Sit and Wait: Stopping Trademark Squatters, USPTO (2020), https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/newsletter/inventors-eye/dont-sit-and-wait-stopping-trademark-squatters (last visited Nov. 11, 2020) [https://perma.cc/9SLB-ERS4].

  18. See id.

  19. See id.

  20. See Matthew Paras, Dan Snyder abandoned Washington Warriors trademark as recently as this year, The Washington Times (July 9, 2020), https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jul/9/dan-snyder-abandoned-washington-warriors-trademark/ (last visited Nov. 11, 2020) [https://perma.cc/2XFU-W34P].

  21. Chiefly because of an objection proffered by McCauley, stating that Snyder had vowed never to change the name, and therefore did not ever have the requisite intent to use the new moniker.

  22. See Paras, supra note 20.

  23. See id.

Steven W Schlesinger

Steven W Schlesinger is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from Touro College. Steven is an ordained Rabbi, founder of an IT company, and occasionally dabbles in blitz chess.