Is Trademark Protection an Olympic Task?

by on September 24, 2012 · 0 comments

in Intellectual Property

Now that U.S. Olympic athletes are back at home, they have another job to do—turning their medals into cash. Unlike other athletes, Olympic athletes are not paid millions of dollars to perform. Therefore, they often have a small window of opportunity in which to capitalize on their success.

In addition to lucrative endorsement deals, Olympians can also turn their now famous personas into brands. By seeking trademark protection for nicknames and catchphrases, athletes can profit from emblazoning them on a host of consumer products from t-shirts to key chains.

However, this year, U.S. Olympians seems to be running into a lot of legal roadblocks. After the U.S. women’s gymnastic team won gold, their “Fab Five” nickname, which was widely used by the media, seemed like a natural moneymaker. However, the gymnasts are not the first group of athletes to be called the “Fab Five.” The 1991 University of Michigan basketball team was given the same nickname by the media. In addition, team member Jalen Rose trademarked the phrase last year, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Rather than haggle over which athletes have superior rights to the trademark, U.S. Gymnastics has elected to pursue the team’s self-given nickname, the “Fierce Five.” However, it may face some resistance with that trademark as well. According to BusinessWeek, a California man named Paolo Mazza filed a trademark application for “Fierce Five” earlier in August. Interestingly, he is the same person that sought to capitalize on NBA phenom Jeremy Lin’s success by filing a trademark for the term “lin-sational.”

Gold-medal winning gymnast Gabby Douglas will be faced with a similar problem if she wants to trademark her “Flying Squirrel” nickname. A Fordham University business student has already applied to trademark the phrase for use on consumer merchandise.

The two cases illustrate a problem for all trademark applicants—getting beat to the Trademark Office. Although the legitimate applicant generally wins out, defeating the application of a “trademark squatter” still requires some legal wrangling. Under U.S. trademark law, the athletes can formally oppose the earlier applications on the grounds that they “falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead.”

However, to avoid unnecessary legal headaches, maybe these athletes need to work on their sprinting skills.

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