— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney
In the wake of our 49th Super Bowl (er, “The Big Game”), it seems the Seahawks are not only making headlines with their last minute calls, but also with their IP strategies.
Over the past couple of years, the Seahawks have filed for registration of several marks, including at least a dozen applications filed in 2014. Some of the applications drawing attention lately include the Seahawks’ attempts to register the phrase GO HAWKS and the word BOOM, both in standard script form, for various goods and services. Additional applications filed in 2014 include phrases such as WE ARE 12, THE 12s, and LEGION OF BOOM.
So far, the team’s attempts to register GO HAWKS brought challenges from the NHL (for the Chicago Blackhawks) and NBA (for the Atlanta Hawks). The application is also drawing attention from the University of Iowa (the Hawkeyes). But arguably, the broadest application recently filed by the Seahawks is for the number “12” for use on capes, jerseys, sweatshirts, and long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts.
For anyone who, like myself, is an infrequent football fan at best, the number 12 signifies the fans. That is, each team usually has eleven players on the field at a time. “The 12th Man” recognizes fans’ role in supporting the team to victory. But then, doesn’t every American football team have a 12th Man in the overzealous crowds of painted faces and nacho cheese? Texas A&M doesn’t think so.
The University has held a registration for 12TH MAN since the 1990s. In 2006, Texas A&M sued the Seahawks for using “12th Man” to describe Seahawks fans. The suit ended in a license agreement, in which the Seahawks agreed to pay an annual licensing fee of $5,000 to use the phrase in limited circumstances. Under the license, the Seahawks are permitted to raise a flag at the start of each game and call it the “12th Man Flag.” The flag can have the number 12 on it, but not the word “man.” The ‘Hawks also can’t sell any merchandise featuring the phrase.
The Seahawks do hold a registered trademark for their blue and white 12th Man Flag, and are apparently now working to further protect their use of the phrase in relation to their own team. In addition to filing their own recent applications, the Seahawks have also formally challenged pending applications for 12 NATION, filed by former Seahawks kicker Norm Johnson and his son Jordan Johnson, and BATCH NO. 12, filed by a small Washington distillery in relation to a line of spirits. Norm and Jordan Johnson abandoned their application after the Seahawks’ challenge, stating that they didn’t have the funds to pursue the fight. The Washington distillery has different color combinations for its Batch No. 12 labels, one of which is an admittedly familiar blue and green.
The team even challenged an application for DISTRICT 12, filed by Lions Gate Films in connection with the Hunger Games franchise, but, perhaps due to public backlash, has since withdrawn and allowed the application to move forward.
The Seahawks also recently filed an application for the number “12” in a stylized font similar to what appears on their jerseys. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have something to say about that one.
While the Seahawks’ IP strategy may be somewhat aggressive, a large trademark portfolio is not unique to the team, nor is trademarking everyday terms and phrases. For a couple of examples, the Raiders own JUST WIN BABY, and the Patriots own DO YOUR JOB. Trademarks for standard form numbers for various goods and services are also not new. (How about “31” in connection with retail ice cream services, or “5” for a certain Chanel perfume?)
Based on a USPTO online search, the Seahawks currently hold 51 active trademark registrations (including granted and filed applications). Teams use their marks not only for licensing and merchandising profit, but also to instill the team’s brand in the minds of fans. Perhaps one reason the Seahawks brand is so well recognized is due to their increased efforts to leverage their IP. However, the team’s latest round of applications may be stretching the brand’s reach a bit too far. Maybe it’s time the Seahawks take a page from the Patriots’ playbook, and deflate their strategy.