In the world of sports, it’s not terribly uncommon for teams to have the same nickname. A quick search of college and professional team names turns up 28 Lions, 39 Tigers, and 26 Bears, to say nothing of derivations thereof, like Bengals or Grizzlies. Teams that don’t adhere to those conventions can end up with names ranging from the unique and inscrutable (I’m still not sure what the Toledo Mud Hens, my hometown minor league baseball team, is named after) to the controversial (notably Washington’s professional football team). For most professional teams, there’s enough differentiation between themselves and their counterparts in both other sports and the amateur ranks to peacefully co-exist. But now one professional team is going after a college sports program that shares its name for perhaps sharing a too-similar logo.
The Toronto Blue Jays are filing a notice of opposition with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on a trademark application from Creighton University, whose athletic teams are known as the Bluejays, for their new logo. In the notice, the Major League Baseball franchise contends that the team has been using their blue jay bird head logo since the team’s inception in 1977, and has–in the 37 year history of their organization–built up goodwill related to their brand and logo (Blue Jay fans looking at the team’s 21-years-and-running playoff drought might disagree on the “goodwill” part).
Creighton University, a Jesuit university in Omaha, Nebraska with just over 8,000 enrollees, first filed for trademarks on their bluejay bird head logo in September 2013, coinciding with the school’s move from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East athletic conference. While there are certain differences between the two logos (the birds are facing different directions, Toronto’s features a prominent maple leaf), Toronto claims that Creighton’s mark will cause confusion with consumers and would create a connection between the university and the MLB franchise; whether that connection would be positive is another matter (again, 21 year playoff drought).
While it remains to be seen how the USPTO might rule on this matter, the Toronto Blue Jays are smart to be vigilant in protecting their brand. Any business, large or small, needs to make sure that the identity they’ve established in the marketplace isn’t harmed by another company with similar naming or marks, or that another entity is taking advantage of the reputation and goodwill they’ve built. By ensuring that sports fans identify the correct logo with their team, the Toronto Blue Jays have set themselves up for a win on the intellectual property (IP) front, if not the baseball diamond.
Do you have trademarks that conflict with those of others? You can't protect what you don't know you have.