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MLB: A Monopoly on “Baseball”?

Posted in Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademarks, TTAB, USPTO

The weather is finally getting warmer up here in Minnesota and it’s a great time to watch baseball, as I’ve been doing frequently of late. It’s been fun watching my home team, the Twins, enjoy a strong start to the season (anything above .500 is huge after our record-breaking disappointment last year), with our younger players making big improvements.

You may think that with the baseball season now in full swing, the MLB might be too busy to aggressively enforce all of its trademarks. You would be wrong. Major League Baseball Properties and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball (“Opposers”) filed a notice of opposition last week before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board against the registration of the word mark FOR BASEBALL USE ONLY (Application Serial No. 87153257).

The individual applicant, Joshua Morell filed the application last year, and it published for opposition in January, without any office actions issued. The application identifies numerous clothing goods in International Class 25,  including for example, hats, shirts, rainproof jackets, and sweat shirts.

The Opposers assert a likelihood of confusion under Trademark Act Section 2(d). The bases for this opposition are loaded with a barrage of baseball-related registrations owned by Opposers (or their related/affiliated companies), as listed below. You’ll see it is quite a long list, but it’s worth a glance through to consider the Opposers’ strategy and their chance of success. I won’t drone on with all the identified goods and services, but many include, for example, clothing, entertainment services, and promotion services.

  • Word Mark Registrations
    • MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL (Reg. Nos. 1528807, 1620020, 3326191, 3862153)
    • MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ALL-STAR FANFEST (Reg. No. 1719587)
    • MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PRODUCTIONS (Reg. No. 1745625)
    • THIS WEEK IN BASEBALL (Reg. Nos. 2743153, 2769617)
    • OFFICIAL BANK OF BASEBALL (Reg. No. 3565847)
    • THE BASEBALL CHANNEL (Reg. No. 3592912)
    • THIS IS BEYOND BASEBALL (Reg. No. 3746838)
    • ALL OF BASEBALL (Reg. Nos. 3779854, 3849163)
    • BASEBALL EVERYWHERE (Reg. No. 3845051)
    • R.B.I. BASEBALL (Reg. Nos. 3864816, 4687412, 4687414, 4750683, 4971324)
  • Design Mark Registrations
    • MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL & Design (Reg. Nos. 955967, 1055317, 1055318, 1055319, 1057260, 1057264, 1617698, 1625617)
    • R.B.I. BASEBALL MLB.COM & Design (Reg. Nos. 4758577, 4758578, 4758579, 4758580)
    • BASEBALL & Design (Reg. No. 1220334)
    • BASEBALL FEVER CATCH IT! & Design (Reg. No. 1230519)
    • MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HOME VIDEO & Design (Reg. No. 1741015)
    • OFFICIAL GAME OF SUMMER BASEBALL & Design (Reg. No. 2791550)
    • NATIONAL LEAGUE OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL CLUBS SINCE 1876 & Design (Reg. Nos. 3644993, 3648872)
    • BASEBALL IQ MLB NETWORK & Design (Reg. No. 4294588)
    • LAS GRANDES LIGAS DE BEISBOL (Translation: “Major League Baseball”) (Reg. Nos. 2976531, 2976538)
    • SABOR A BEISBOL (Translation: “Flavor of Baseball”) (Reg. No. 3700391)
    • Design-Only (Reg. No. 2573503)
  • Opposers also cited two pending applications:
    • ONE BASEBALL (Serial. No. 86783219)
    • WE ARE BASEBALL (Serial No. 87095504)

In my view, some of the registrations cited by the Opposers are a bit off-base regarding a likelihood of confusion, particularly some of the design registrations. Quantity is not always better than quality. Even for the word mark registrations, the fact that those registered marks contain the descriptive or generic word “BASEBALL” (which, by the way, is disclaimed in many of the asserted registrations), is not necessarily sufficient for a likelihood of confusion based on the applicant’s arguably dissimilar mark FOR BASEBALL USE ONLY.

The strategy here seemed to be to assert any registrations owned by Opposers that contain the word “baseball.” Opposers even go so far as asserting in the Notice of Opposition that the public has come to recognize and refer to Opposers and their related entities “by the short-hand nickname ‘Baseball’.” That’s quite an interesting contention. Do you agree?

The applicant Joshua Morell has stated that “I am by no means damaging [the MLB] brand and none of the marks are even close to being identical to any of the MLB marks.” Morell has also explained that he is building a family of “Use Only” brands for athletes in different sports–he has also applied to register the marks MARATHON USE ONLY and RUNNING USE ONLY, among others.

Who do you think will prevail in this opposition proceeding? Stay tuned for updates.