The Super Bowl is coming up soon and two teams, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks will battle it out for the championship. But who is winning the trademark battle? The Super Bowl trademark itself has had its fair share of trademark controversy over the years, but this article will explore the trademark filings and oppositions of the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots and see who comes out on top.
Trademarks Owned by the Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks’ trademarks are owned by FOOTBALL NORTHWEST LLC. Since 1976, the Seahawks organization has registered for 116 trademarks. Of those, 48 are currently “live” applications or registrations. The Seahawks own 26 trademark registrations on the Principal Register.
The Seahawks most well-known phrase, THE 12TH MAN, is actually owned by Texas A&M, who agreed to license the trademark to the Seahawks for $100,000 at the time of signing and $5,000 per year for five years. That agreement expires in 2016, when the parties will need to renegotiate for what looks like will be a significant amount of money. As an alternative, the Seahawks have begun marketing other similar marks and obtained a federal registration in the stylized number 12 with a blue background (figure 1), the same stylized 12 without the blue background, and a number 12 with a “waving fan” inside of it (figure 2). They also have intent-to-use applications currently active for standard word marks THE 12S and 12S for similar goods and services as the marks above. It also owns BRING ON THE 12 and SPIRIT OF 12 for sports and entertainment-related services. This brings up two interesting points of trademark law: (1) a trademark only covers certain goods and services and (2) a trademark owner may only have rights in a specific stylized form of letters or words.
First, you might be thinking, “how could anyone own rights in the number ‘12’?” A federal trademark registration does not give the owner exclusive rights to use the trademarked phrase on all goods and services. The goods and services are strictly limited to the ones used in the marketplace (and the natural expansion within related goods and services). For example, third parties own federal registrations for SEAHAWK for binoculars and SEAHAWK DRILLING for oil drilling services. As another example, the Seahawks own a trademark in the word BLITZ, which seems surprising for any football team to be able to own. However, BLITZ is the name of the Seahawk’s mascots, and the Seahawks only own a trademark registration for limited “mascot-related” services. Similarly, the Seahawks only have exclusive rights to use the blue background “12” mark on “banners and flags of textile; cloth flags; fabric flags; and towels.” It also has exclusive rights to use the stylized number 12 on “Capes; Jerseys; Long-sleeved shirts; Shirts; Short-sleeved or long-sleeved t-shirts; Short-sleeved shirts; Sports jerseys; Sweatshirts; T-shirts; and Tops.” These are restricted uses of the mark and does not give the organization the right to stop others from lawfully using the mark in other ways.
Second, when a trademark owner applies for a “stylized mark,” (figures 1 & 2) the federal registration only applies to the mark as it is portrayed in the application. If you have a registration for a standard word mark, then you have exclusive rights to use that mark in any stylized form. Obviously applicants will want a standard work mark whenever possible, but sometimes this isn’t possible due to other prior registrations. For example, the Seahawks’ application for the standard word mark 12 on various apparel has been issued an initial refusal based on the registration for the standard word mark 12 owned by Penske System, Inc., the company that owns the Penske Moving Company and Penske Racing for apparel related to the race team.
The Seahawks also registered the phrase LEGION OF BOOM for flags, pennants, and various sports apparel. There is also some third-party competition for the LEGION OF BOOM mark. The Legion of Boom LLC applied for the mark for entertainment services related to sports video production, which caused a later application belonging to the Seahawks to be suspended. However, this application will likely fail because, according to a recent office action, the mark falsely associates with the Seahawks organization and the applicant failed to provide an adequate signature. This application will likely get rejected, allowing the Seahawks application to proceed.
All in all, we can say that the LEGION OF BOOM and 12 are much more suited to the defending Super Bowl Champions than their last slogan, WE’RE ALIVE AND KICKIN’, ARE YOU?, which was an attempt to “upgrade their public appeal by obliterating their decade-old image as a mediocre, stagnant organization.” This slogan was the target of over a dozen trademark applications by the Seahawks organizations, none of which are “alive” today.
Trademark Litigation Pursued by the Seattle Seahawks
In terms of trademark oppositions, the Seahawks have recently gone on the offensive against a number of opponents. Some of these parties were clearly trying to associate themselves with the Seahawks organization, while others seem to have nothing to do with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are recently asked for extended time to oppose applications for THE LEGION OF LOUD, BOOM SEATTLE, and have initiated oppositions against the registrations of the marks LEGION OF 12 & BATCH NO. 12, both of which were filed by Seattle-based businesses. The Seahawks also sought additional time to oppose an application filed by a Virginia distillery seeking to register the name 12 SPIRITS, which does not appear (on its face, at least) to reference the Seahawks organization.
On the other hand, the owners of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and the Chicago Blackhawks asked for an extension of time to oppose the Seahawks GO HAWKS application. Somewhat ironically, these same organizations, in addition to the Seahawks, sought to oppose an application for GO HAWKS by other third parties.
A good slogan can unite a fanbase and be a symbol of team’s success (or failure.) It can also provide the team with a significant revenue stream. Therefore, the Seahawks engage in an aggressive strategy of trademark prosecution and enforcement. But will this be enough to overcome the Patriots trademark arsenal. Tune into our next post, which will look at the trademark filings and proceedings of the New England Patriots.