BRANDING IS NFL'S GAME PLAN

by Tamera H. Bennett The National Football League spent the first quarter of 2007 aggressively guarding its intellectual property. The league covered plenty of territory from sending cease and desist letters to churches for violation of the public performance right under copyright law for “Super Bowl Watching Parties,” to moving forward with applications to register the trademark “The Big Game.”

In early 2006, the NFL filed trademark applications for four classes of goods and services: clothing; football exhibitions; printed materials such as posters, books, magazines; and toys and sporting goods. Pursuant to the United States Patent and Trademark Office trademark application procedures, the applications were published on January 23, 2007 to allow any third party that believes they would be damaged by the registration of the trademark to oppose such registration.

Twenty-two different entities were granted a 90 day extension of time to file an opposition to the registration of the trademarks on or before May 23, 2007. Potential opposers include Wal-Mart, Papa-Johns, Time, Inc., and the Regents of the University of California.

Interestingly enough, the applications were filed as “intent to use.” This means, NFL properties has not yet used the marks in interstate commerce on or in connection with the named goods/services. I believe many of the opposers will claim 1) the opposer has used the mark in interstate commerce, and/or 2) the term “The Big Game” is generic for sporting events. Trademark laws were designed as consumer protection statutes. Although trademark owners receive many wonderful benefits under the laws, the goals of the laws include reducing consumer confusion as to the source of goods/services and protecting the public from terms that do not function as trademarks receiving trademark protection. Question to ponder: Is “The Big Game” a generic term describing a sporting event?

Read the view from a sports columnist.