As California IP attorneys, we will be rooting for the San Francisco 49ers to take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year. However, as we approach the “Big Game,” we also want to remind businesses that the National Football League fiercely protects its “Super Bowl” trademark.
Licensing the trademark is big business for the NFL. Sponsors like Pepsi, Verizon, Motorola, and Castrol pay more than $100 million annually to be affiliated with the league. However, those who are not officially licensed by the NFL may receive one of the 80 to 100 cease-and-desist letters the league sends each year to businesses using the brand without permission.
Prior to this year’s game, the NFL took legal action against an Indiana man who had the foresight to predict that Jim Harbaugh, coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and John Harbaugh, coach of the Baltimore Ravens, would one day face off in the Super Bowl. Ron Fox filed trademark applications for the terms “Harbowl” or “The Harbaugh Bowl.”
However, as ESPN reports, the NFL quickly put the brakes on the trademark registration. League attorneys contacted Fox and warned him that they believed that the trademarks could easily be confused with the NFL’s Super Bowl mark.
The argument is tenuous at best; however, we will never now how a court might have ruled on the likelihood of confusion. Unsure of his legal rights and unable to afford a costly legal battle with the NFL, Fox ultimately abandoned the application.
Because neither the NFL nor Fox registered the trademark, some may see it as fair game. However, businesses should still expect a letter from the NFL.