Texas A&M Concerned That Indianapolis Colts' Use Of 12th Man Might Confuse Football Fans

from the hut-hut-lawsuit! dept

Texas A&M has a long history of defending its registered trademark of “12th Fan” to ridiculous lengths. Between threats to breweries, threats to double-amputee cancer-survivors, and generally serving as the template for the Seattle Seahawks’ own idiotic over-enforcement of a rival 12th fan trademark, the university has managed to foster a climate of permission-culture over a phrase that has become commonly used in American football circles. See, the 12th man refers, in most cases, to fans of football teams that show up and make so much noise as to influence the opposing team on the field. Lots of teams have used the phrase over the years, including the Indianapolis Colts. Well, the Texas A&M lawyers have finally had enough and have brought suit against the Colts, hilariously claiming that football fans might see the Colts’ use of the phrase and think there’s a connection between the school and the professional football team.

Texas A&M president Michael K. Young said in a statement from the school that the Colts have used the trademark “without our permission after repeated attempts to engage on the matter.”

“We bear no ill will toward the Indianapolis Colts,” Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp said in the statement. “We simply want them to respect our trademark rights. Our actions are consistent with our previous trademark enforcement efforts in this regard.”

Well, that’s certainly true, but the point is that those past actions were equally ham-fisted and hilariously disingenuous when they claimed that football fans would somehow draw a direct association between a Texas university and a professional football team or beer-maker over the use of the phrase. This is no different, in that it isn’t at all about customer confusion, but rather about licensing deals that are quite lucrative for the school. The previous spat with the Seattle Seahawks, for instance, resulted in the Seahawks licensing the use of the phrase. That particular deal wasn’t as lucrative, because the Seahawks can afford skilled lawyers, too. In fact, the $5,000 whole dollars per year the Seahawks pay Texas A&M every year for use of the phrase is so small as to be laughable. But if you can string a bunch of those licensing agreements together, while bullying smaller entities into other licensing arrangements? Well, then you have a decent amount of money to talk about.

Still, it’s high time that somebody out there pushed back on the laughable claims Texas A&M makes in its trademark filings. Keep in mind that the use of the “12th Man” phrase by the Colts amounts to it appearing in one place in its stadium to honor fans and in solicitations for tickets. From this, Texas A&M claims:

Defendant’s unauthorized use of the mark 12TH MAN in connection with its professional football entertainment services and its various products is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive customers and potential customers as to an affiliation, approval, license, endorsement, sponsorship, or other connection with Texas A&M, when none exists.

That’s obviously not true. The phrase, at this point, has become so commonplace for use among football fans that nobody is even thinking about origins when they hear it. Certainly nobody going to a Colts game is thinking about the A&M Aggies. By my reading, the filing doesn’t even attempt to show any instances of actual confusion, probably because none exists.

Hopefully the Colts will do what the Seahawks didn’t and mount an aggressive defense.

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Companies: indianapolis colts, texas a&m

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Comments on “Texas A&M Concerned That Indianapolis Colts' Use Of 12th Man Might Confuse Football Fans”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Bah, stupid yanks and stupid yank uni's

The Twelfth Man (also known as The 12th Man) is the name for a series of comedy productions by Australian satirist Billy Birmingham. Birmingham, a skilled impersonator, is generally known for parodying Australian sports commentators’ voices. As befits the name (a reference to the non-playing reserve in an eleven-player cricket side), Birmingham particularly focuses on cricket commentators such as Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry and Tony Greig. This is also because many of Australia’s cricket commentators have distinctive and easily identifiable voices and accents.


Texas A&M Legal Dept says:

Re: Bah, stupid yanks and stupid yank uni's

Mr Coward,

Thank you for providing this most excellent lead!
While some find comedy funny, it is no laughing matter that some ‘comedian’ is using our trademark!

We will be filing a lawsuit against the WikiMedia Foundation and Billy Birmingham to seek the largest re-occurring licensing possible.

We also ask that you remove your post form Techdirt since it is likely to confuse others on the validity of our trademark. If not removed within the next hour we will add you to the latest round of lawsuits.


John D. Not esquire
Texas Assholes & Morons University

Anonymous Coward says:

The Colts Suck

Hated the Colts since ’84, but that isn’t the point.

They should be embarrassed to use the term because the Seahawks use it. In the NFL, the 12th man is sort of their thing.

I hate Jim Irsay more than Dan Snyder.

But seriously, Indianapolis, come up with your own thing. Copy another minor league tradition if you want, but keep it unique in your league.

Next thing you know, the Patriots will sue the Panthers because they have a perfect record, and that is a Boston thing, only Boston is allowed to win all of their games.

I’m also happy that the Bengals lost last night, but they’ll still likely win their division.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well. It seems that many people here are ignorant of the law. Teach yourself instead of whining like a baby.

1. If you have a registered trademark, you defend it. That’s the whole point of a trademark; you don’t want other people to use it.

2. Registered trademark is national trademark unless it is registered in every country.

3. If you don’t like “12th man”, then it is your problem. “Apple”, “Red Hat”, “Fox” are all registered trademarks. “Apple” could sue anyone who uses ‘Apple’ in the industry, specially in the software or computer hardware industry.

4. In this case, because the Colts is a football team, Texas A&M had good reason to sue. If the Colts were a pen making company, A&M’s action could have been different.

Randolph Duke (profile) says:

One major problem with the Texas A&M trademark for the phrase “12th Man” is that they filed a false and misleading trademark application to obtain it. In defending the trademark, they first have to defend their fraudulent claims associated with their use of the phrase.

The university claims they adopted the phrase in 1922 after a football game. The first use of the phrase actually occurred at least more than two decades earlier in 1900 by a Univ of Minnesota cheerleader) and had no connection with TAMU.

The school’s first use of the !2th Man phrase as they claim it to exist occurred in 1939, not 1922, and was part of a fictionalized radio program written by the head of the school’s alumni association. We know this because E. King Gill, the individual the school recognizes as the team’s “12th Man” explained this fact in numerous interviews.

Here a link to an explanation of the history of the TAMU claims.


Here is a link to a snippet from a Apr 15, 1964 Dallas Morning News interview where E. King Gill explains he was not aware of any !2th Man tradition at the school prior to the 1939 radio play.


It appears the school administrators have concocted a large scale fraud to obtain a trademark on the phrase “12th Man.” As a governmental entity, the school has an unquestioned obligation to withdraw the fraudulent federal trademark filing and to correct the factual errors.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Re: Fraud

As long as the first-use date precedes the date of the application for a trademark registration, there is no fraud under the law:

The claim of a date of first use is not a material allegation as long as the first use in fact preceded the application date. E.g., CarX Service Systems, Inc. v. Exxon Corp., 215 U.S.P.Q. 345, 351 (1982); McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition (2d ed.1984), 2, § 31:21 at 610.

Pony Exp. Courier Corp. of Am. v. Pony Exp. Delivery Serv., 872 F.2d 317, 319 (9th Cir. 1989).

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

Not just pointy football

It isn’t just fans of the sport that US fans call football — futbol fans the world over think of themselves as the 12th man. Take a look at these products, for example:

Looking forward to a hearty welcome to Texas A&M when it sues the Barra Brava here in DC

Then there is this example in the Aggies’ own backyard: http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2013/8/12/4615504/mls-12th-man

Steve says:

Texas A&M = Douchbags

Look, I’ve been watching football since 1976, and commentators and fans have always used the term 12th man to describe the influence of the fans of the home team. I never even knew that Texas A&M had any special claims to this. It’s obviously a douchbag grab at money. Look, very few one associates the 12th man with the Aggies, but they should be proud to say the tradition started there. There are many such traditions that started with one team or another, but this is the only case where the team is such as asshole as to try to copyright for profit… even against dying cancer patients. Have they no shame? The only thing their lawsuits have done for me is to officially make them on my most disliked team in college football. I will be pulling against them in all cases until they stop this behavior. Shame on you Texas A&M… a pox upon you!

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