An NFL fan who had the foresight to try and get a trademark registration for “Harbowl” says he was threatened by the NFL’s trademark attorneys to abandon his trademark application. Unfortunately for him, he had not consulted a trademark attorney before filing his trademark application or after being threatened by the NFL. Whether or not pursuing the trademark registration was feasible, going up against a juggernaut like the NFL was probably just too intimidating. When it comes to navigating the complex world of intellectual property, the advice of good trademark attorney can be critical.
Roy Fox, from Pendleton, Indiana, apparently began to muse about the possibility of a “Harbowl” many months ago. As Fox recently told ESPN: “I thought to myself, ‘Can you imagine if these guys played each other? If Pat Riley would go through the trouble of trademarking three-peat, why shouldn’t I try this?’” He then spent over $1,000 on the trademark application process. Fox filed two trademark applications – one for “Harbowl” and another for “Harbaugh Bowl.” Apparently, he didn’t consult a trademark attorney, as his applications were filed with the USPTO using his name for the correspondence information.
After filing his trademark application, in August, the NFL’s trademark attorneys began to contact him, urging him to give up the application. As the months went by, the NFL’s trademark attorneys grew increasingly threatening. This is where Fox would have done well to have a trademark attorney of his own. Initially, Fox tried to bargain with the NFL for the right to the mark, asking for Colts season tickets and an autographed photo of (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell . But when the NFL threatened to make him pay for their legal costs, Fox backed down and cancelled the application.
Here’s where a solid understanding of trademark law would have come in handy. According to Fox’s interview with ESPN, the NFL alleged that his “Harbowl” marks could conflict with their own Super Bowl trademark registrations. But their arguments may not have been as strong as Fox might have thought. There are many football bowls around the country. Does anyone think there would be a likelihood that consumers would be confused or mistakenly believe there was an association between “Super Bowl” and “Harbowl” any more than between Super Bowl and other football bowls such as the Cotton Bowl or Rose Bowl? Also, would the NFL even have standing to raise issues with respect to trademark registration applications based on the names of the Harbaugh coaches? What about the NFL’s threat to make Fox pay for its attorneys’ fees – is this even credible? Any number of good trademark attorneys could have advised Fox regarding these issues.
But Fox is not the only one seeking to capitalize on the HarBowl term by filing for a trademark registration. As of today, there are at least three newcomers to the quest for a Harbowl trademark registration. According to the USPTO, three new trademark applications for Harbowl were recently filed. Two were filed using trademark attorneys and one without. Will the NFL use the same game plan against these newcomers as against Fox, or will the NFL have met its match? Stay tuned.