As many have written about before me, the NFL is quite protective of its rights in the SUPER BOWL trademark, so much so that some think it has earned the pejorative “trademark bully” label, so I spilled a little digital ink on the topic last year:
This year, given the brotherly Harbaugh coaching match-up for the Big Game — depicted below (but, not this Big Game), the NFL has widened its SUPER BOWL trademark enforcement net even more to thwart another’s trademark ownership of the coined term HARBOWL:
It is not clear to me who is responsible for coining the term HARBOWL (perhaps a sports writer in 2012), but there is no question that a man from Indiana named Roy Fox was the first to file a federal intent-to-use trademark application for HARBOWL, in fact, he filed it about a year ago on February 21, 2012:
“Right before the conference championship games last year, I thought to myself, ‘Can you imagine if these guys played each other?’” Fox told ESPN.com. “If Pat Riley would go through the trouble of trademarking three-peat, why shouldn’t I try this?“
Apparently Legal Zoom didn’t whisper this answer into Mr. Fox’s ear: “Because the NFL will get in your way!” Sure enough, the NFL caught wind and filed extensions of time to oppose registration of the HARBOWL mark, and before needing to formally oppose, NFL attorneys apparently convinced Mr. Fox to expressly abandon the application (without any compensation or reimbursement), despite the reported view that this would be a rather weak trademark opposition. It also has been reported that counsel for the NFL wrote to Mr. Fox:
“If you are still interested in resolving this matter amicably and abandoning your trademark application, please contact me as soon as possible,” NFL Assistant Counsel . . . wrote to Mr. Fox in October. She warned that otherwise, the NFL “will be forced to file an opposition proceeding and to seek the recoupment of our costs from you.”
To the extent, this is an accurate quote from counsel for the NFL, exactly how did the NFL plan to recoup its costs in filing and pursuing an opposition when it is black letter law that monetary relief is not available in TTAB opposition proceedings? This was clearly an empty threat. Nevertheless, Mr. Fox complied and formally abandoned the applications. So, might this be the end of the HARBOWL trademark story?
Apparently not, just days ago, another pair of entrepreneurs lined up for their own personal dance with the NFL: (1) Tom Cohen, from Rockville, Maryland, who filed his HARBOWL intent-to-use trademark application on January 20, 2013, and (2) Andrew Shulstad, from Charlotte, North Carolina, who filed his application a day later. Interestingly, the guy who founded Trademarkia is representing the fellow from North Carolina.
Notably, neither the NFL nor the Harbaugh coaches have sought to register HARBOWL as a trademark — will anyone care a year from now? Anyone predicting HARBOWL II?