Texas A&M, the owner of the “12th Man” trademark, filed two complaints against four Buffalo Bills fans who infringed on the trademark when they included the term in their website 12thManThunder.com. The fans may not have known, but the Bills have been paying Texas A&M licensing fees to use the term on the Bills Wall of Fame.
The story then became rather emotional than legal when it was known that one of the Bills fans is Charles “Chuckie” Sonntag, a double amputee who had recently survived cancer. He lost his left arm 20 years ago and his left leg in March. Living on an $825 monthly check from Social Security, he struggles from Albright’s disease or polyostotic fibrous dysplasia. In response to Texas A&M’s action, Sonntag said, “My experience has proven two things: a handicapped person can accomplish just about anything – and Texas A&M will sue just about anybody.”
Although the university learned about Sonntag’s situation, it seems unlikely to withdraw the lawsuit because it may lose its trademark if it fails to take active steps to defend the mark. Typically, a trademark owner argues that failure to police infringement will weaken its mark and weakens the owner’s ability to enforce the rights to the trademark.
After Texas A&M notified the fans to stop using the “12th Man” immediately, Sonntag found it difficult to respond to the university’s demand as quickly as it wished because of his physical disabilities as well as financial difficulties. Texas A&M’s spokesman Shane Hickley said,
“We have been negotiating about a turnover date for several weeks. When it became apparent they would not make that change, we gave them a deadline of last Friday to respond. The domain name still needs to be transferred from their ownership. It is still redirecting to their website. Their use of social media is still in question.”
Fearing the possibility of a lawsuit, Sonntag said, “We’re not doing anything to harm their school, or take any business away from them or making any money off of it. It’s just a fan organization that wants to save our Bills.” Maybe Texas A&M prefers bad publicity over taking chances with their trademark.