US Women's Gymnastics Team Decides Self-Chosen Nickname 'Fierce Five' Needs Trademark Protection

from the because,-these-days,-NOT-filing-is-never-an-option dept

Is anyone else out there excited to hear about athletes trademarking nicknames? Anyone? Or is it just another one of those things that seems to go hand-in-hand with buying defensive patents by the bucket-load and fending off onerous members of artists' estates? These IP land grabs seem to be a sign of the times, a brave new world of preemptive protectionism that leads people to believe that they have to quickly lock down everything pertaining to them, even if it's a spur of the moment nickname handed out by an enthusiastic sportscaster.

From the (L)insanity of last year to the trademarked unibrow of a few months ago, athletes are seemingly becoming their own marketing force, rushing off to the trademark office in order to nail down rights to anything remotely catchy/marketable. The latest trademark grab comes on the heels of the Greatest Trademark Show on Earth, the 2012 Olympics
USA Gymnastics is preparing a trademark filing for the term “Fierce Five,” which was attached to the gold medal-winning women’s gymnastics team at the London Olympics, spokeswoman Luan Peszek said in an e-mail.

Peszek has said the team, including Gabby Douglas, the first black gymnast to win the all-around, preferred Fierce Five to Fab Five.
Good thing, too. The article points out that, preference or no, Fab Five is already taken, secured by Jalen Rose a mere 19 years after University of Michigan's 1991 draft class was given that nickname. I'm not sure what the opportunities are to capitalize on a catch phrase two decades down the road, but if any exist, it's probably in the "undergarments" and "pajamas" field.

The road to "Fierce Five" isn't entirely bump-free, however. Someone has beaten the Olympic medalists to the Trademark Office:
A California man, Paolo Mazza, filed for a “Fierce Five” trademark on Aug. 8, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. No attorney was listed on the filing, which provided only a post-office box in Millbrae, California, as an address. There is no telephone listing available.*
*(There is. You just have to dig a little deeper.)

Mazza is no stranger to the trademark field, having filed one for the phrase "Lin-sational" back in February. Wisely deciding to avoid the rush on the more popular phrase "Lin-sanity," Mazza instead attempted to nail down his uncontested phrase only to find it very much contested by the USPTO, which has asked him to provide proof that Jeremy Lin is totally cool with this (orig. wording slightly paraphrased). No doubt Mazza will find himself 0-for-2 in the near future, as no one is allowed to fuck with any Olympics-related IP as it's likely the USPTO will view this new attempt as just another trademark squat, something that is becoming somewhat of a "trademark" for Paola Mazza.

So, it's a little bit of everything that's ridiculous about IP "ownership." Sportscasters use the term "Fab Five" to refer to a gymnastics team, which it can freely do as long as it doesn't slap the phrase on some pajamas, thus violating Jalen Rose's 20-years-from-the-point-of-impact trademark, which has recently been extended. The gymnastics team grants itself its own nickname, the "Fierce Five," and rushes to the USPTO to find itself second in line behind another person who thought he might capitalize on something somehow by swiftly locking the phrase down. (The whole "choose your own nickname" part of this seems a bit disingenuous. I mean, I'd like to be known as "The Impossibly Photogenic Writer" but it's more likely I'll be known as "Pirate Mike's B-Lister," among other things. Just like you don't get to choose your family members or parole officers, you just don't get to choose your own nickname.) 

If the granting of trademark protection is supposed to protect consumers from bad actors and allow enforcement by the rights holders to prevent dilution, how does jumping all over a catch-phrase do any of the above? Are consumers really going to be "damaged" if they purchase a counterfeit "Furious Five" unitard? Are we really in need of a bunch of catch-phrases with a (TM) attached in order to dispel the confused haze that surely must surround us at all times? Would it be a lost opportunity if a mildly viral quote went unregistered? 

I would think that a key move towards cutting down abuse of this system (trademark trolling/trademark bullying) would be to trim down on the number of, for lack of a better term, "frivolous" filings. I realize the USPTO isn't in any position to try to gauge the level of post-championship, post-interview, post-viral quote atmosphere in which the application was filed (especially months down the road when it gets reviewed), but as it stands now, the system does absolutely nothing to discourage these sorts of actions -- either the quick-fire trademark squatting or the equally-fast attempts to monetize fleeting moments.

Filed Under: fab five, fierce five, gymnastics, olympics, sports, trademark


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Aug 2012 @ 11:27pm

    Maybe it is time to start asking people to show proof that they are using a trademark before granting any to anyone.

    I mean why would you grant such things for "potential use" and not "actual use"?

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