Trademark disputes and the NFL go hand-in-hand, but lately those disputes have begun to center on the football players themselves. Increasingly, players are working to protect what they perceive to be their personal brands by registering their names, nicknames and catch phrases as trademarks. With football season about to kick off, here's a look at some of the NFL players to get in on the trademark action.
1. Bart Scott
Bart Scott, a linebacker with the New York Jets has yet to make any money off his now trademarked catch phrase “Can't Wait!” coined during an interview with ESPN after the Jets beat the Patriots in the AFC divisional playoffs in 2011. The footage was posted on YouTube and quickly went viral. Vendors didn't waste any time making T-shirts using the catch phrase, and neither did Scott's wife, who suggested he register it as a trademark. The application went in on January 21 of this year and covers a laundry list of clothing for its intended goods and services. Scott may not be able to wait (!) but he'll have to to see what happens to his application at the US Patent & Trademark Office—just like everyone else. And the USPTO doesn't get penalized for delay of game.
2. John Elway
Trademark attorneys hired by John Elway, former Denver Broncos quarterback and current executive vice president, sent a letter to a little-known punk rock band in Colorado who goes by the name Elway, politely asking them to stop using Elway's surname. The letter wasn't a request to cease and desist, but merely to suggest that the band find a new name for itself.
Band leader Tim Browne claimed that Elway isn't interested in football and that there's no mention of John Elway in their recordings or artwork, but did name as a “tribute to their Fort Collins roots.” While the two Elways are separate entities and clearly do not provide the same goods and services, one imagines that Elway the player has more money to spend on any dispute than does Elway the band. After all, John Elway is already registered for furniture, spice rubs and restaurants, all three of which must be augmenting his already large purse. On the other hand, as long as the band doesn't branch out into cabinet-making, this dispute may be a dead ball.
3. Jared Allen
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has two registered trademarks, including a logo for “Jared Allen 69inc,” which he uses both to sell clothing and to host a non-profit organization called “H4WW” or “Home for Wounded Warriors”—a foundation dedicated to improving the lives of injured US military veterans. Allen's latest registered mark is “Got Strange?” under which he sells various clothing and accessories for men and women, as well as a line of hunting and rodeo apparel bearing the phrase “Got Strange?” also on his website www.jaredallen69inc.com. The other logos and phrases on Allen's clothing, including “Mullet Mullitia” (for, according to his website, t-shirts that are “Printed on the softest, smoothest, sexiest shirt you will find anywhere”) have yet to be applied for or registered.
4. Michael Strahan
New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan may not have displayed the best sportsmanship when he coined the phrase “Stomp You Out” after his team defeated the New England Patriots in 2008, but he does plan to display the catchphrase as a trademark on a sportswear clothing line that produces sports jerseys, pants, shirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, and jackets. Strahan filed his application on an intent to use basis (he has yet to sell anything bearing the phrase), so whether he can convert remains to be seen.
5. Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis, New York Jets cornerback, is known for his extraordinary ability to defend against receivers one-on-one, stranding them on his turf, which he calls “Revis Island.” Revis also appears to have some good business sense to go with his on-the-field skills. In January 2010, while New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was joking about renaming Manhattan Island “Revis Island” and players on opposing teams were boasting about how they were going to be escapees from “Revis Island,” Revis was busy applying for trademark protection with the USPTO. Like Strahan, Revis has also filed on an intent to use basis, but Revis has one step on Strahan—the proposed trademark has his own name in it, which should stop anyone thinking about using it, registration or no. Plus, you probably don't want to upset Mr. Revis.
6. Terrell Owens
Wide receiver Terrell Owens of the Cincinnati Bengals rocketed to stardom on the football field, but his star power has remained strong because of his excellent branding. He registered his “I Love Me Some Me” (not to be confused with “I Love Me Some Him,” a song by Toni Braxton) trademark catchphrase in 2009, and his personal branding machine extends to a children's book, a breakfast cereal bearing his name, and a VH1 reality show he starred in that same year.
Singers, actors and other celebrities have been building their personal brands for years. But in the sports world, other than early pioneers such as football Hall of Famers Joe Namath and OJ Simpson and basketball superstars Michael Jordan (who may be the only human ever to register the shape of his head as a trademark) and LeBron James (whose name LeBron is actually a mark owned by Nike), other sports stars have only recently started building their own personal brand empires. Given the short-lived careers of many sports stars, most would agree that it's probably not a bad idea to cash in on their fame while they're still on top of their game.
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