Pattishall IP Blog

May 20, 2014

Can California Chrome THREE-PEAT? Its Owners Sure Hope So

Filed under: Advertising, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:28 pm

Paul Borovay F LRBy Paul A. Borovay, Associate

California Chrome, the horse that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes over the last three weeks, has the opportunity to be the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years if it wins the Belmont Stakes on June 7. While California Chrome flirts with history next month, its owners are securing its rights in the horse’s name to capitalize on its (potential) legacy.[1]

As ESPN.com reported this morning,[2] Steven and Carolyn Coburn and Perry and Denise Martin, who make up the horse’s ownership entity of Dumb Ass Partners, filed for the trademark CALIFORNIA CHROME, Ser. No. 86/281,678, for “[a]thletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, athletic uniforms.” According to the article, California Chrome’s owners hope to cash in on licensing deals that are likely dependent on California Chrome winning at the Belmont Stakes.

California Chrome’s owners will not be the only ones this spring hoping to cash in on an outcome dependent trademark. Pat Riley, the owner of the trademark THREEPEAT, Reg. No. 4,051,757, hopes to capitalize on the mark once again if the Miami Heat manage to repeat as NBA champions for a third straight year. [3] Riley first applied for the THREE-PEAT mark in 1988, Reg. No. 1,552,980, when his Los Angeles Lakers were on the cusp of winning three consecutive NBA championships only to be swept by the Detroit Pistons in the championship series.

While he was unable to exploit the mark in the 1980s, Riley has monetized it several times since then. For example, Riley reported earned over $300,000 in licensing revenue when the Chicago Bulls won three consecutive championships (twice) in the 1990s.[4]   Meanwhile, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers have also won three consecutive championships each, adding even more licensing revenue to Riley’s coffers.

Interestingly, Riley’s first registration for THREE-PEAT, the ’980 Registration discussed above, was cancelled in 2008 because he failed to file an acceptable declaration under Section 8 of the Trademark Act. Additionally, an individual filed a petition to cancel the ’980 Registration in 2001, arguing that the mark did not serve as a trademark and had become generic.[5] Holding that the petitioner failed to show that the mark did not function as a trademark or that the mark was generic, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) noted that a type of athletic accomplishment in itself (i.e., winning three consecutive championships) did not necessarily indicate that the term “conveys any meaning, let alone a generic meaning, about [Riley’s] goods.” Pet. Cancel, p. 9. Additionally, the TTAB stated that the placement of Riley’s THREE-PEAT mark on t-shirts was consistent with how trademarks are generally used as a source identifier. Id. Last, the TTAB said that as long as Riley controls the nature and quality of his licensees’ goods, “the mark does not have to indicate a single physical source of the goods, but may also indicate a single, i.e., consistent, source of quality, regardless of the actual physical source or producer of the goods.” Id at 10.

While Riley’s most recent THREEPEAT mark, Reg. No. 4,051.757, was filed in 2010 under Section 2(f), there remains the question whether the mark has now become generic for the feat of winning three consecutive championships. While the petition to cancel the mark was unsuccessful in 2001, a mark can become generic over time. With more teams winning consecutive championships, and with more individuals invariably using the mark in a descriptive or generic manner for winning three consecutive championships, time will tell whether someone will contest the marks validity in the future and what will be the ultimate result.

With that said, Riley’s ability to monetize a mark that only has value when a series of exceptional events occurs in the future proves that patience really can pay off. While it may look like California Chrome’s owners’ gaze is affixed on the finish line on June 7, their foresight to file a trademark application last week demonstrates that their vision for both California Chrome and CALIFORNIA CHROME really starts when the race is over.

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Paul A. Borovay is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Paul’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, media, online gaming and entertainment, advertising, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.

 

[1] ESPN.com reports that the horse was bred for $10,500 and has now won $3.45 million on the track. See http://espn.go.com/horse-racing/triplecrown2014/story/_/id/10957336/california-chrome-owners-file-trademark-horse-name

[2] Id.

[3] As reported on this blog only July 25, 2012, there is some debate as to whether Riley or ex-Los Angeles Lake Byron Scott coined the term THREE-PEAT. Nevertheless, Riley owns the rights to the mark. See https://blog.pattishall.com/2012/07/25/who-owns-a-trademark-jeremy-lin-wins-linsanity-as-anthony-davis-fights-for-his-unibrow/

[4] http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/9360787/miami-heat-owner-pat-riley-had-foresight-patent-three-peat-not-three-heat-espn-magazine

[5] Christopher Wade, Pet. Cancel No. 21,869, 2001 WL 1028372 (Trademark Tr. & App. Bd. Sept. 6, 2001).

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May 6, 2014

Doing Your Due Diligence Before Picking A Name

Filed under: Due Diligence, TM Registration — Tags: , , , , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 3:04 pm

Paul Borovay F LRBy Paul A. Borovay, Associate

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article about things to consider before naming your business.[1] It is a good (and short) read for anyone considering starting a company, or even for those individuals who have a company and are thinking about rebranding it under a new name or concept.

To start, consider what makes a company name so important: it must be unique, easy to spell, and nowadays, ideally, play nice with Google’s, Yahoo’s, and Bing’s be-all and end-all algorithms, among other necessaries. As the Entrepreneur article points out, several names, like Apple, Snapple, Oreo and Virgin, are fun to say and easy to spell – and they stick in consumers’ minds.

But the article fails to mention one important aspect about the “picking a name process:” entrepreneurs must do their due diligence before investing time and money in a name.[2] There is nothing worse than getting excited about the perfect name only to be sued for infringing someone else’s trademark after launch.

There are several ways to avoid this scenario. A good start is to check the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website to see whether someone else is already using your name. The USPTO provides for both word and design mark searches. Next, conduct your own internet search. If you get several results with a name that is similar to your proposed name but covers different goods or services, you might be okay. Trademark attorneys focus on these types of risk analyses.

One of the most popular services trademark attorneys offer are clearance opinions. First, the attorney will conduct a clearance search for your proposed mark. A clearance search may be obtained from a professional search vendor and reviewed by the attorney. The professional search vendors offer the broadest coverage, including reviewing federal and state trademark registrations, business names across the country (or world if you would consider selling your goods or services abroad), similar internet and domain name references, and variations and colorable imitations of your proposed name revealed through their own proprietary databases.[3] These searches are far more comprehensive than anything you or I could do on our own. They are not cheap, but they really show just how unique and protectable your name might be. Following the search, a trademark attorney will provide you an opinion assessing whether the mark is available for use, as well as your likelihood of getting a state or federal registration.

If you plan to operate your business internationally, securing the advice of a trademark attorney is definitely the way to go, as different countries have very different trademark systems. If you don’t secure trademark rights in the countries where you want to do business, someone else might easily register your name there, and there might not be anything you could do about it.

Once you do secure your perfect company name, you should consider retaining a watch service. As the name suggests, a watch service watches federal and state trademark registrars for similar trademark applications. Getting an early start to protecting the brand you have spent so much time and money developing is imperative and will help keep the scope of your rights in your name as broad as possible.

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Paul A. Borovay is an associate with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP, a leading intellectual property law firm based in Chicago, Illinois.  Pattishall McAuliffe represents both plaintiffs and defendants in trademark, copyright, and unfair competition trials and appeals, and advises its clients on a broad range of domestic and international intellectual property matters, including brand protection, Internet, and e-commerce issues.   Paul’s practice focuses on litigation in trademark, media, online gaming and entertainment, advertising, as well as trademark prosecution and counseling.

 

[1] As a complete disclosure, neither I nor this law firm has any connection to Entrepreneur Magazine – though I do own a subscription.

[2] An Entrepreneur Magazine article published on April 8, 2011, titled How Can I Find Out Whether a Business Name Is Already Taken? did discuss the importance of trademark searches.

[3] For example, would you think to search for the term “Fit You” if you were conducting your own trademark clearance search for your proposed new company name “U Fit”? Maybe, but maybe not. See You Fit, Inc. v. Pleasanton Fitness, LLC, 8:12-CV-1917-T-27EAJ, 2013 WL 521784 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 11, 2013).

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