If you are a sports fan, you probably have a favorite team that you follow and support. You may even have some merchandise with the team’s name and logo on it. But have you ever wondered if the team’s name and logo are protected by trademark law? And if so, how did they get that protection?
Trademark law is a branch of intellectual property law that protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs that identify the source of goods or services and distinguish them from those of others. Trademarks help consumers recognize the quality and reputation of the products or services they buy, and they prevent confusion or deception in the marketplace.
Trademarks can be registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which gives the owner exclusive rights to use the mark nationwide and to sue infringers. Trademarks can also be acquired by common law, which means that the owner has used the mark in commerce without registration and has established goodwill and recognition among consumers, though this is much harder to prove than simply having the federal registration.
Sports team names are often trademarks, as they serve as the name of a business that provides sports exhibitions or entertainment services. For example, “New York Yankees” is a registered trademark for, among other things, sports exhibitions. Sports team names can also be protected by common law if they have been used in commerce for a long time and have acquired secondary meaning, which means that consumers associate the name with a specific source.
However, not every sports team name can be trademarked. The USPTO will refuse to register a mark if it is generic, descriptive, or likely to cause confusion with an existing mark. For example, “Basketball Team” is too generic to be trademarked, as it does not identify a specific source of goods or services. “Los Angeles Lakers” while not descriptive as a whole, has a geographically descriptive element: Los Angeles, which describes where the team is based. “Washington Commanders” is unlikely to cause confusion with “Washington Capitals”, another sports team name registered for similar services, because the only common wording between them is “Washington,” which, just like Los Angeles, is geographically descriptive. If, however, you tried to trademark “Columbus Commanders” as a football team name, it would likely cause confusion with “Washington Commanders” because the non-descriptive element is exactly the same.
Therefore, if you want to trademark your sport’s team name, you need to make sure that it is distinctive, original, and not confusingly similar to any existing marks. You also need to prove to the USPTO that you are using the mark in commerce, which means that you are offering your goods or services under the mark to the public. This can be done by providing evidence such as advertisements, tickets, websites, or merchandise—all depending on what goods or services you filed the trademark for.
Trademarking your team name can give you many benefits, such as preventing others from using your name without your permission, enhancing your brand image and reputation, and increasing your fan loyalty and support. However, a trademark also comes with some responsibilities, such as maintaining the quality and consistency of your goods and services under the mark, monitoring the market for potential infringers or diluters of your mark, and renewing your registration.
If you need help with trademarking your sports’ team name or logo, you can contact us for more information. We can assist you with the application process and advise you on any legal issues that may arise.