Wait, What? How Many? What Do They Claim To Own?
By: Amir Alimehri ’17 Typically, a business or an individual files a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) seeking nationwide protection for the trademarks they use or have a good-faith intent to use in interstate commerce. There are many rules to the game of obtaining protection; of recent note is the USPTO’s prohibition of racist marks. Most people familiar with the trademark process would say that applying with the USPTO is the easy part but keeping a trademark alive is the hard part. Most applicants do not try to use this relatively easy process to file frivolous applications hoping they go unnoticed. But of course, there are always those who desire to stand out from the crowd and do the unexpected; they do this by filing as much as sixteen trademark applications in one year. The subject applicant is Football Northwest LLC dba SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (“Seahawks”). Fort those not familiar with this name, this is the Seattle Seahawks football team that participates in the National Football League (NFL). Filing a lot of trademark applications does not necessarily indicate frivolousness. It is understandable if an entity like Nike, being in the business of making products that naturally each require separate trademark protection, filed twenty trademark applications in 2014. But a football team filing for this many trademark applications? Something is up. The most contentious of the Seahawks’ marks is “12,” currently registered as a trademark for banners and flags (both paper and textile classes) and pending for clothing, restaurants and bars, apparel, and entertainment services. It’s contentious especially due to the fact that the Seahawks have already settled with Texas A&M University, the owner of the “12th Man” trademark, and the Seahawks have agreed to pay an initial $100,000 and $5,000 annually to use the “12th Man” mark. The Seahawks have now filed the many applications listed above so they can circumvent the issue (limited geographic use and non-exclusivity of the term) they have with Texas A&M. I suspect the Seahawks are trying to gain registration of their “12” marks so that they may have a stronger claim to fight Texas A&M’s “12th Man” mark. If the Seahawks defeat the “12th Man” mark, they can probably have the leverage to charge Texas A&M and other sport teams who want use the number 12 in their trademarks. This is an issue worth keeping an eye on because the number 12 is used by many sport teams on the merchandise they sell (see here, here, and here) and also because 2016 is nearing. 2016 is when the Seahawks and Texas A&M are set to return to the negotiation tables to discuss renewing their licensing agreement. In addition to the potential opposition the Seahawks may face by third-parties for their mark “12”, the Seahawks have already faced opposition for their other pending mark “GO HAWKS”. The NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the NBA on behalf of the Atlanta Hawks have been allowed to file oppositions to this mark with the USPTO. (See here, and here). It will be interesting to see what the grounds for opposition the “12” mark will be, how many more oppositions will be filed, how the Seahawks will proceed from here, and how the USPTO responds to all this trademark chaos. Will the Seahawks prevail on their assault or will the oppositions succeed in defending their rights to these marks?