A Fight Over Baseball Hall-of-Famer Honus Wagner’s Trademarks
Florida-based Honus Wagner Co. filed a complaint on July 5, 2017 in Florida federal court against an Indiana licensing management company for trademark infringement. Honus Wagner, considered by some to be the greatest shortstop ever, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936 as one of its original five members. In the beginning of the Twentieth Century, no player was more dominant than Wagner. He led the majors in hits, runs, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits, runs batted in, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
In its complaint, Honus Wagner Co. alleges that it has continuously used the “Honus Wagner” mark since the company was founded by the former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop in 1922. According to Honus Wagner Co., Wagner formed this company to sell sporting goods during his retirement. He then sold the company and the rights to the Honus Wagner name, mark, likeness, and identity in 1929, and the company has been around ever since.
Honus Wagner Co. claims that two trademarks it holds to market merchandise related to the Hall of Famer are being violated by Luminary Group LLC, an Indiana licensing management company. On its website, Luminary states that it is “the exclusive worldwide representative to some of the greatest legends of our time,” including Wagner, and offers to license his name and likeness to others. Luminary alleges that it represents Wagner’s estate through his family and heirs.
In 1934, Wagner tried to win back the rights to his name and likeness, but the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania held that the right to the exclusive use of the name Honus Wagner for commercial purposes is vested in the Honus Wagner Co. their heirs, executors, administrators, successors, and assigns. Honus Wagner Co. now relies on this case in its complaint asserting that it has the exclusive rights to the Honus Wagner name.
Luminary countered and filed a motion to dismiss arguing that Honus Wagner Co. has failed to plead sufficient facts to support its infringement claims. Luminary argued that Honus Wagner Co., while relying on the 1934 ruling, failed to plead basic facts about its claimed contractual rights, and did not produce the actual contract details. Luminary also says that its general website which it operates are passive website that do not feature any links for viewers to purchase anything relating to Honus Wagner Co.’s trademarks. A judge still has to rule on the motion to dismiss.