A point often made, and worth repeating ad nauseum, is that it’s crucial to get your intellectual property affairs in order early, and to do so in a thorough, comprehensive manner. Scrambling after the fact to try and get whatever trademarks or copyrights or patents you need isn’t a good process, and rarely leads to good results. It’s all a bit reminiscent of doing an end-of-term paper in the two or three days before it was due and hoping for a generous grading curve from the professor. (Not, uh, that I have any experience with such things.)
The Washington Football Team of the National Football League has been, along with its baseball compatriots in Cleveland, a case study in how not to handle either renaming your team or in acquiring the requisite trademarks to do so. They waited until the outcry over their previous name was at a fever pitch, allowing others to file for trademarks on a host of potential replacements, and now it seems that the generic placeholder name is giving them fits.
Sam Fortier at the Washington Post has the story of how the Washington Football Team’s trademark filing for that same name was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. At issue is the fact that the generic replacement name is in fact generic; Washington Football Team, in the abstract, isn’t duly specific enough to warrant awarding a trademark. Oddly enough, the report also mentions a previous filing by one Mr. Martin McCaulay for Washington Football Team as a reason for the rejection, even though the first reason would seem to suggest McCaulay has no better claim to the mark than the Football team, or anyone else for that matter.
As Fortier notes, the lack of a trademark isn’t necessarily an impediment to the all-important merchandising dollar for the team; the upside of the mark possibly being ruled generic is that it would be free for the WFT to use. Conversely, the downside is that they wouldn’t be able to prevent others from using it either, opening the door to what would in normal circumstances be considered unlicensed or knock-off merchandise, but in this case is simply shorthand not made by the almighty NFL and its Official Partners.
And the WFT could still back a money truck up to Martin McCaulay’s house should he be awarded the trademark somehow, or could convince the USPTO that the name has taken on meaning and identification with the team, even if most of that is simply getting dunked on by football fans for being awful in many and varied ways. Either way, the WFT is left to twist in the wind for a bit longer, and largely of their own design, or lack thereof.