Athletes’ Trademarked Names – The Brand is Out on the Field!


We have become too familiar with the term “Tebowing”, but did you know it represents a registered trademark? That’s right, Tim Tebow owns the trademark, “Tebowing”. In fact, he owns one trademark registration and twelve pending applications for variations of “Tebow”. Prior to his registration, others have wrongfully attempted to cash in on his name. In addition to Tebow’s thirteen, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) shows twenty-one applications using a variation of the name “Tebow”. The applied for marks range from “It’s Tebow Time” to “What Would Tebow Do”. Needless to say, all the trademarks filed without Tebow’s consent received a rejection on a Section 2(a) basis for a false connection with a living individual.

As the NFL draft approaches, the young draft hopefuls need to start thinking about protecting their brand. A lot of athletes already understand the importance of trademark protection. Tiger Woods currently stands at eighteen trademark registrations that make use of his image or name. Jimmie Johnson owns two registered trademarks and one pending application. Nike owns the Jeter logo, named after Derek Jeter. David Beckham currently enjoys six registered trademarks and one pending application. Victor Cruz owns eight pending trademark applications, none of which include his end zone salsa dance. However, he does have a few trademarks pending for his Young Whales brand. Lebron James owns four registered trademarks and three pending marks. Surprisingly, Lebron James does not own “King James Active wear”, the registration, filed in 2009, belongs to a South Carolina resident. Athletes understand that their image sells. As a result, some seek to protect that image through registrations with the USPTO.

A couple of newer athletes understand the value of a trademark. From the 2012 NFL draft Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick have both filed for trademark registrations. RGIII currently owns eleven pending applications for various phrases, such as “Unbelievably Believable” and “Work Hard Stay Humble”. He also owns three pending applications for marks utilizing his name, including his well-known monikers, “RG3” and “RGIII”. Colin Kaepernick holds six pending applications that feature all or a portion of his last name, such as “Kap 7” and “Kaepernicking”. Both of the starting quarterbacks in the 2013 Super Bowl have a trademark associated with their name. Joe Flacco owns his name as a trademark for athletic apparel, advertising services, and entertainment services in the field of athletics. These younger athletes understand the importance of protecting their brand through trademark registration. Other athletes should follow in their footsteps.

People know fame sells. As a result, athletes need to keep a watchful eye on businesses and individuals that try to claim that fame as their own. Two trademark applications have received rejections from the USPTO for trying to use the name Justin Blackmon, one not so indiscrete (“Justin Time Blackmon” and “Justin Blackmon”). Andrew Luck does not own a federally registered trademark. However, some still toe the legal line by attempting to register trademarks using his name. One hundred and thirty-six trademark applications and registrations feature the word “luck” for clothing. Some of them seem like allusions to the number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. “Suck For Luck” represents one example. This application utilizes a common phrase in 2011 in reference to fans hope to attain the number one pick in the 2012 draft for the sake of acquiring Andrew Luck. These younger athletes need to realize, like some of their colleagues, they obtain fame the day they turn professional and others will try to use that name to profit unfairly.

The Lanham Act provides some restrictions to acquiring a trademark for goods or services using a name based on an individual. As discussed herein, Section 2(a) prohibits falsely suggesting a connection with a living individual. However, you can overcome this restriction by showing consent of the living individual to use the name in association with the goods or services. As a result, athletes provide a written consent to use their likeness in the mark, which they provide as part of the application record. In addition, Section 2(e)(4) restricts the registration of primarily a mere surname. However, most athletes overcome this rejection by having the surname combined with additional matter (i.e. no longer merely a surname). Athletes have hurdles to acquire trademark registration of their name. However, the benefits of applying far outweigh the chance of receiving a rejection.

Athletes should understand that their name represents their brand. Trademark protection prevents others from profiting through false association. Trademark registration offers athletes the opportunity to reap the benefits of their own image. To all the athletes, and in the words of Kid President, “that means it’s time to do something”, protect your name, get a trademark. For more information regarding trademarks or help filing a trademark see our website: Our Trademark Law Firm.

Published March 18, 2013 by Brent Sausser.



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