NFL’s Squeeze Play Forces “Harbowl” Trademark Owner to Forfeit Rights
Last year Roy Fox got to thinking – what if NFL Head Coaches and brothers Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens) ended up facing each other in the Super Bowl? With that thought in mind, Fox went out and spent over $1,000 to file trademark applications for the terms “Harbowl” and “Harbaugh Bowl.” The NFL was not pleased by Fox’s play. Shortly before the 2012-2013 season began, the League contacted Fox with concerns that his trademarks could become confused with the NFL’s “Super Bowl” trademark. The NFL then “encouraged” Fox to abandon his quest to have the marks approved.
Though Fox attempted to bargain with the League in return for this abandonment – requesting either his costs in pursuing the applications or other NFL goodies such as season tickets and autographed photos – he was stonewalled. Eventually, after the NFL stated that it would to seek to recover its future legal costs incurred in opposing Fox’s filing, Fox withdrew the applications on October 24, 2012.
R. Polk Wagner, an intellectual property professor from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, isn’t so sure that Fox was required to abandon his quest, stating “[m]y view is that the league was being overly aggressive in their interpretation that his marks were confusingly similar to ‘Super Bowl.” Still, Wagner opined that such a result was relatively common, noting that when individuals are faced with the prospect of a legal battle with a large, well-funded organization such as the NFL, “nine out of 10 times, the person backs away.”