The Seattle Seahawks are known for several things amongst National Football League (“NFL”) fans. One of the most well known facts about the Seahawks is that they have deemed their notoriously loud and rowdy fans as “The 12s.” In fact, the Seahawks have registered several trademarks over fan nicknames like “12,” “The 12s” and “Bring on the 12.” As we discussed in our post about the Superb Owl vs. Super Bowl fight, the NFL is ferocious in its trademark policing and enforcement efforts.
That is why we were not surprised to hear that the Seahawks launched an opposition against a trademark application for “Power of 12” for T-shirts, hats and other merchandise, filed by Ace Lineup Athletics LLC. We were surprised, however, to discover that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) did not cite any of the Seahawks registered marks against the “Power of 12” trademark application. In fact, many of these registrations cover the same goods and services listed in the “Power of 12” trademark application.
Considering the NFL’s proficiency in stomping potential infringing trademarks from existence, it is likely the “Power of 12” trademark will never mature into a federal registration. It is worth mentioning that the applicant, Ace Lineup Athletics LLC, didn’t do itself any favors by submitting specimens showing the “Power of 12” mark on Seahawk colored t-shirts, along with the word “Seattle.” This will most likely be the death knell in any chance at defending against the opposition, as it clearly demonstrates an intent to create an association with the Seahawks organization—a big no-no in the world of trademarks.
Can we learn something from Ace Lineup Athletics’ mistake?
We sure can! First and foremost, do not try to use and/or apply for trademarks that come close to any NFL trademark, slogan, logo, etc. The NFL has proven to the world that it does not and will not allow others to trade off its goodwill with potentially infringing trademarks.
Second, this situation—along with many others—demonstrates that just because your trademark application passed the scrutiny of an examining attorney at the USPTO, does not mean you are totally in the clear.
This second point highlights the importance of doing a thorough clearance search before deciding to adopt a mark. Just checking the USPTO registry is usually not enough to make an informed risk analysis of adopting a mark. Any third-party can oppose or cancel your application or registration if they feel it would harm their trademark rights in some way. Thus, while it may seem clear to obtain a federal trademark registration, there may be unregistered uses of the mark that could put your application and/or registration at risk.