Athlete Trademarks: Names, Nicknames, & Catchphrases
Book chapter in The Oxford Handbook of American Sports Law (2018), Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2017
Date Written: January 1, 2017
The mixed marshal artist and Olympic judo gold medalist Ronda Rousey is the proud owner of the registered trademark RONDA ROUSEY for clothing and entertainment services, along with nine additional pending applications for ROWDY RONDA ROUSEY. But when NBA player Jeremy Lin applied to register LINSANITY as a trademark just a few days after fans coined the term, he learned that several other applicants had beat him down the court. NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, has applied for marks such as BEAST MODE, POWER PELLETS, BOUT THAT ACTION, and I’M JUST HERE SO I WON’T GET FINED; some speculate that his assertiveness at the US Patent & Trademark Office helped him secure lucrative endorsement deals with sponsors including Nike, Skittles, Progressive, and Activision.
Athletes at all stages of their careers are increasingly attempting to register their names, nicknames, catchphrases, and fan slogans as federal trademarks. But their goals in filing those applications are often notably distinct from the traditional goals of trademark law, and the types of use that athletes make of those marks differ somewhat from the types of use theoretically required for protection. Athletes’ recent attempts to rely on trademark laws to monetize their fame and cultural capital reveal a mismatch between this trend and the legal doctrines on which it relies. Those who work at the intersection of sports law and business are therefore poised to help shape this area of law while advocating for their clients’ interests.
This chapter begins with an overview on trademark use and registration. Next, it discusses limitations for trademark protection, including those based on distinctiveness, false association, and confusion, and explores how those doctrines affect athletes’ ability to protect certain words or phrases as trademarks. Finally, it considers how the general goals of trademark law comport with an athlete’s desire to protect words and phrases associated with him or her and prevent others from appropriating them.
Keywords: sports law; trademarks; intellectual property; branding; marketing; intent-to-use; USPTO
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