Kobe Bryant was an outstanding defender on the basketball court. Now, in his post-basketball business career, he’s looking to do some defending of his “Black Mamba” brand after someone else recently filed a trademark application on the name. With only a pending trademark application of his own at the US Patent & Trademark Office, Kobe is relying on common law trademark rights to oppose the new filing.
Kobe has long gone by the nickname the Black Mamba and is known internationally by the moniker. The name stuck so much that Nike declared Kobe’s last NBA game day “Mamba Day”. On top of that, Kobe asserts that he authorized commercial partners to use the nickname back to 2007, evidencing the control he has over the nickname and its source identifying nature. Although he arguably became synonymous with the Black Mamba, Kobe hadn’t formally filed a trademark application on the name. This has become a bit of problem now that someone else filed for trademark protection on the name before Kobe, or at least means Kobe now has to spend more money on attorneys to protect his Black Mamba brand.
In April of 2016, a group called 47/72 filed a trademark application on “The Black Mamba” in the class covering online retail store services featuring various forms of clothing. The application was filed as an intent to use, meaning they hadn’t established commercial use of the mark yet, but they plan to do so. This filing must have caught the attention of Kobe’s business group because in May of 2016, Kobe, Inc. filed a trademark application on “Black Mamba” in the class covering athletic apparel & footwear. It was also classified as an “intent-to-use” application.
As both applications moved forward in the Trademark Office, they proceeded to the publication for opposition phase of trademark registration. This includes publication in the official Trademark Gazette, which provides notice to the public that the marks will move forward with registration if there is no opposition. When 47/72’s mark published for opposition, Kobe quickly opposed the mark. Often, opposition to a pending trademark registration application would be by a registered trademark holder; but in this case Kobe doesn’t have a trademark registration, just a pending application and his alleged common law rights to the brand.
Common law rights are established through commercial use of the mark and exist regardless of obtaining a federal trademark registration. Kobe hopes to rely on his common law rights including use and control of the brand as well as his international recognition as the Black Mamba to prevent 42/72 from gaining exclusive branding rights over Black Mamba. With Kobe’s fame and notoriety as the Black Mamba, it’s likely that he can make a strong claim for use of the name as a brand indicator, but you never know for sure. Even if you are Kobe Bryant and your nickname is the Black Mamba, getting a federal registration early on is important to protecting your brand.