Texas Trademark Lawyer Tamera Bennett

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Johnny Football vs. Johnny Football and NCAA Amateur Status Part 1

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Update 11/6/2013

JMAN2 Enterprises, LLC, the entity owned by Johnny Manziel settled the trademark lawsuit with defendant Eric Vaughan.

Original post:

Texas A&M University football star and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is a couple of quarters into legal battles over the trademark "Johnny Football."  The battles are happening at the court-house against defendant Eric Vaughan for selling unauthorized "Johnny Football" t-shirts and at the US Patent and Trademark Office to secure a trademark registration.

The phrase "Johnny Football"  has not only become synonymous with Manziel, arguable Texas A&M University used Manziel's name and likeness as a brand identifier/trademark for clothing.   Manziel, an amateur athlete, cannot profit from his own name and likeness.  That's where Texas A&M comes into the picture as Manziel's licensee.

Interestingly enough, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against Eric Vaughan, is an entity owned be Manziel. Texas A&M is not a party to the lawsuit.  The plaintiff alleges Vaughan sold t-shirts infringing the trademark "Johnny Football" and did not stop selling the shirts even after receiving cease and desist letters.

The suit raises some interesting NCAA Student Athlete Name and Likeness questions that I will ponder, but which I am unable to answer:

  • If Manziel is successful in his lawsuit, could his recovery of damages violate his NCAA amateur status? Maybe not according to NCAA Bylaws the recovery is not tied to Manziel's athletic performance. (See NCAA Bylaw 12).
  • But, it might be an issue with NCAA Bylaw 12.4.4 which prohibits a student athlete from using his name and likeness from promoting the student athletes' own personal business.
  • And, should the recovery actually go to Texas A&M in accordance with NCAA Bylaw 12.5.5.1.e which requires all money from the use of the student athletes' name and likeness go directly to the member institution, member conference or the charitable, educational or nonprofit agency?  While news reports say the NCAA has approved Manziel retaining any recovery, I have been unable to confirm this statement with the NCAA.
  • Because Manziel had to sign NCAA Form 08-3a which assigns his name and likeness rights to the NCAA, I'm wondering if Manziel, or his entity, are the proper party for this lawsuit?  This also ties into NCAA Bylaw 12.5.5.1.e.

You can download the NCAA bylaws for free from this link.

Here's a link to the complaint/lawsuit against Eric Vaughan.

Part 2 of this post will focus on the hurdles facing the JOHNNY FOOTBALL trademark application at the USPTO.  Juanito Futbal and Johnny Basketball might raise a likelihood of consumer confusion.