There are plenty of people out searching for an easy payday, and trademarking phrases is one of the easiest ways to do so.
Public figures – I refuse to call them celebrities – such as Paris Hilton and Mike Sorrentino from Jersey Shore have tried to trademark phrases like “that’s hot” and their nickname such as “The Situation” to collect from anyone trying to mimic their persona.
The reason for such things happening is due to the virality of phrases in the common era with social media and shirts and other paraphernalia being printed within minutes.
As phrases and terms become viral, often those who have not created the term have filed to trademark the phrase, seeking financial compensation for the use of their trademarked property for various uses. The same thing has now happened to the Super Bowl matchup between coaching brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, which has been dubbed the HarBowl.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, an Indiana man named Roy Fox tried to capitalize on the name given to the coaching matchup after figuring the two could possibly meet on a bigger stage. The name first surfaced when the brothers met on Thanksgiving night in 2011, but given that both brothers lost in their conference championship games, Fox believed it would be a possibility for them to meet again – and they will next Sunday.
In Rovell’s story, he said the NFL caught wind of the HarBowl names attempted trademarking and reached out to Fox in August. The league office claimed the name could easily be confused with the term “Super Bowl.”
After he was first confronted by the NFL, Fox’s intentions of flipping the phrase for profit became evident as he attempted to bargain with the league office. Fox had asked for the league to reimburse him for his legal costs of $1,000 to trademark the phrase and send him an autographed photo of Commissioner Roger Goodell along with a pair of season tickets for his hometown Indianapolis Colts.
All requests were denied by the league.
Fox has relinquished his pursuit of the trademark after increased pressure from the NFL and the threat of having to reimburse the league for their legal fees had they had to go to court.
The most frustrating part is that both parties involved are wrong. Fox is not affiliated with the Harbaughs or any NFL franchise in any way. On the other side, the NFL’s excuse of the name being confused with the Super Bowl is asinine.
Aside from the players participating in them, any of the 34 collegiate football bowl games end in the word “bowl” – the phrase HarBowl is no different than the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl or Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman.
Clearly, the NFL has the right to protect the trademarks of those teams within the league but throwing around a sorry excuse such as “it could be mistaken for the Super Bowl” just doesn’t make sense. As for Fox, if he wants to buy something that he didn’t create and turn it around to make a profit, he should buy a house and flip it, not steal a phrase from the NFL.
This is the world in which we live in and trademark issues happen in all levels of business. A great example would be of the Ravens, a team who will be 1/2 of the HarBowl/Super Bowl or whatever you’d like to call it next Sunday. In 1996 as the Ravens held a contest for their new logo, they took a submitted picture from a security guard Frederick E. Bouchat and put it on their helmets without any compensation.
The Ravens were found to be infringing on Couchat’s copyright but the team only had to change the logo and Bouchat was only entitled to three dollars of legal damages from the NFL.
Trademarks exist to protect the concepts and ideas of those who have created them, not to become a race of who can apply for a patent or trademark first. Unless you created something yourself, leave it alone. Plain and simple. The frustrations you’d feel if someone stole a concept from you is being felt by someone else.
Bigger businesses have bigger and better lawyers. If some average Joe from Indiana wants to try to pull one over on the NFL, it’s clear that they’re in for an uphill fight. The NFL has more power of intimidation than anyone would ever want to face for an idea that wasn’t even theirs to start with.