Regardless of which team you were rooting for, this year’s Super Bowl (a/k/a the Big Game) was an exciting one to watch, with the Patriots making a surprising comeback in the second half, racking up 31 consecutive points to overcome the Falcons 28-3 lead. A number of records were made this year, including the first overtime in Super Bowl history, the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, and the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls.

However, one record that was obviously not made this year was a perfect, 19-0 season by the Patriots. In fact, that’s never happened. The closest they’ve gotten is 18-1, after their 14-17 loss in 2008’s Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants (secured in large part by David Tyree’s famous helmet catch–which the Patriots finally avenged this year with Julian Edelman’s unreal ankle catch).

Because the Patriots haven’t yet had a perfect season, it might come as a surprise that the team was recently granted trademark registrations for “PERFECT SEASON” (Reg. No. 5095619) and “19-0” (Reg. No. 5100521). These two registrations cover mostly the same goods and services in five classes, including for example, several types of clothing, toys and sporting goods, and providing sports and entertainment information. The Patriots had optimistically filed applications for these trademarks in January 2008, before their Super Bowl loss to the Giants, resulting in an 18-1, un-perfect season. After numerous office actions and extension requests over the course of nine years, registration was granted for both marks a couple months ago.

One of the requirements for a trademark registration is actual use in U.S. commerce–so you may be wondering how this requirement was established when the Patriots have never had a perfect season or attained a 19-0 record. Although thousands of T-shirts were printed in anticipation of a “perfect” season before the 2008 Super Bowl, they were shipped to other countries and never sold in the U.S., and thus no use in commerce occurred.

The Patriots found an interesting workaround that was accepted by the USPTO. They licensed the use of the “PERFECT SEASON” and “19-0” marks to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which produced a DVD of the 2015 state football championship game between two high school teams–Xaverian Brothers and Central Catholic. Xaverian prevailed and accomplished a perfect season, winning its 24th straight game (spanning two seasons). As for the specimen (the proof of use in commerce), the Patriots submitted a photograph of the DVD about that championship game, bearing the printed labels “A Perfect Season” and “A 19-0 Product.”

One might question the Patriot’s efforts and use of resources over nine years to trademark two phrases that probably aren’t usable or profitable for them from a branding perspective (at least not yet)–I can’t imagine many consumers would be interested in purchasing goods or services from the Patriots bearing these marks. Also, it will be unfortunate if one of the other 31 NFL teams goes undefeated before the Patriots do, as the Patriots might try to prevent that team from commemorating a “perfect season” on their merchandise. On the other hand, maybe the Patriots will attempt some other creative, optimistic uses of the marks, before their “perfect season” is actually accomplished. What do you think?

  • James Mahoney

    I think they wanted these trademarks in preparation for their 2017 season, Tucker.

    But I’ll play along with your fantasy that another NFL team may have a perfect season before the Pats do: New England will simply license the trademarks to that imaginary team.

    An important thing to note in the registrations is that as far as I can see, football is mentioned nowhere. To this non-IP-lawyer, that seems to mean that *any* perfect season team in *any* sport would be a potential licensee.

    And, you’ll also note, the TM owner is not the New England Patriots, but rather, Kraft Group LLC. After all, Mr. Kraft is nothing if not a businessman. ;-)

    • Tucker Chambers

      Thanks for your comment James, great points. I’m sensing that you might be a Pats fan ;-) I don’t blame you, I almost converted myself when I spent four years at school in Boston. I agree there are a wide range of licensees, making these registrations potentially quite valuable. I also noticed while writing the post that the record owner is Kraft Group LLC, which is the parent company to the New England Patriots, LLC, located at the same address in Foxborough.

  • Dan Kelly

    Unbelievably, I dislike the Patriots even more now than I did before reading this.

    • Tucker Chambers

      Thanks for your comment Dan–I don’t blame you, I was also rooting for the Falcons to win their first Super Bowl. The Pats sure do have an interesting approach to trademark registration. On that note, just a couple weeks ago the Pats filed a couple more trademark applications, presumably related to the Super Bowl yet again, for the mark ONEMORE (Nos. 87310670, 73), which seems to have come true this time. We’ll see what happens with those.