Sunday, July 1, 2012

Guest Post: Athletes and Trademarks

Anthony Davis is having a great year.  Back in April he led the Kentucky Wildcats to their first National Championship since 1998.  Last Thursday he was selected first overall in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets.  But before he was drafted he decided to cash in on one of his features that everyone makes fun of: the unibrow.  Davis trademarked the phrases “Fear the Brow” and “Raise the Brow”.  Since he is able to embrace the unibrow he can now cash in on T-shirts and other merchandise that will be made with those sayings on them.  He was not able to file for intellectual property rights while he was in school because college athletes are not allowed to profit off the trademarking.  Kentucky helped him out by filing for the trademark and sending out multiple cease-and-desist letters to people who were using the phrases. 
This practice of trademarking phrases has been more popular recently but one of the first people to do it was Pat Riley in 1989.  After coaching the Los Angeles Lakers to back to back titles Riley decided to trademark both “3-Peat” and “Three Peat”.  Unfortunately for the Lakers they did not win the title in 1990.  Pat Riley was still able to make money a few years later in 1993.  The Chicago Bulls that year won their third straight title and Pat Riley received royalties on all Bulls’ merchandise that had the phrases he owned on them.  It is estimated that Riley made 300,000 dollars from the Bulls “Three Peat”.  He later received more royalties for the Bulls second “three peat” in 1998, and also the Lakers and Yankees championships in more recent years. 

Another player in the NBA that filed for a trademark this year was Jeremy Lin.  Everyone probably remembers his amazing run for the New York Knicks early in the season.  During his run the term “Linsanity” was created.  Five games into “Linsanity” Lin filed for the trademark along with many other people.  As of last month Lin is the only one remaining who is trying to trademark that term. 
The NBA is not the only league in which athletes try to trademark their slogans.  In 2005 when he was on the Boston Red Sox Manny Ramirez filed for a trademark on “Manny being Manny”.  This trademark has now been abandoned.  Recently Bryce Harper filed for a trademark on his now famous quote “That’s a clown question, bro”.  When this quote was originally said the social media world blew up over it.  It became the number one trending topic on Twitter that day.  Harper filed for the trademark less than 24 hours after he initialed said the quote.  This now gave the up and coming superstar a great slogan to go with his talent.  Under Armour has already begun to print shirts with the quote on it.    

The NFL has had many examples in recent years of players trademarking their slogans.  Derrelle Revis trademarked “Revis Island” after Michael Bloomberg said he was going to rename Manhattan that.  Terrell Owens, when he was on the Cowboys, trademarked “Love Me Some Me” and Michael Strahan trademarked “Stomp You Out”.  A less known trademark comes from the bizarre Jared Allen whose slogan is “Got Strange”. 

Robert Griffin III has not even taken a snap yet but he is already cashing in on his trademarks.  Griffin created his own company called Thr3escompany, LLC and filed for trademarks for RGIII, RG3, Robert Griffin III, and Unbelievably Believable.  Everyone in the Washington DC area from food vendors to people selling custom shirts were cashing in on Griffin’s name.  All the shirts have now been pulled off the market and now Griffin will receiving royalties for the shirt sales. 
The most famous and most annoying trademark to some people has to be from Tim Tebow.  His “Tebowing” had become an international hit with everyone and their mother doing the pose and taking pictures of it.  The first person to file for the trademark was not Tebow but Jared Kleinstein.  Kleinstein ran the website called and filed for the trademark two months before Tebow.  He was eventually denied because he had no relationship to Tebow at all. 

I am definitely a fan of the trademarking of athletes’ slogans.  It is a smart move to add another revenue stream.  The players are capitalizing on their fame while they have it and by doing so maximizing their earnings.  In the future I see this trend continuing and bringing us more enjoyable and witty slogans.

By: Greg Monforte

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