Concussion Protocol: Can You Tell The Difference Between Soda And One Half Of A Football Team?

from the crushing-it dept

There are a surprising number of really dumb trademark disputes involving professional sports, what with athletes jumping at the chance to trademark their nicknames and phrases, and that really dumb 12th Man thing. But even this cynical writer was taken aback at the news that Dr. Pepper had stepped in to block the Denver Broncos from trademarking the term "Orange Crush", the nickname for the team's defensive squad spanning nearly half a century.

An online record shows that the Broncos filed paperwork to trademark the phrase "Orange Crush" in September 2015 through the NFL's chief litigation officer, Anastasia Danias. Last week, lawyers for the beverage makers filed an opposition to the attempt.

If neither the Broncos nor the NFL abandon their filing, the case will be heard before judges on the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which will make a call as to whether the team should be allowed to register the mark.

This again leads me to wonder whether all the words we've expended here at Techdirt discussing the particulars of trademark law have been for naught. One of the basic concepts of trademark law is that marks are typically applied narrowly, usually by industry. So, for instance, if Dr. Pepper were to notice another company using the term "Orange Crush" to sell beverages, it would have absolutely every right to stop that. But all the categories for which the Broncos propose to use the term revolve around its use at sporting events and merchandise related to those sporting events. The Broncos are not, by all accounts, planning to make soda. The Denver defense has been using that nickname, however, going back to the 1970s. Given that the two industries are fairly distinct, the court should have an easy time determining whether there will be any customer confusion to consider.

We here at Techdirt have a suggestion. While the typical test for whether confusion will occur is the infamous "moron in a hurry" test, which asks if idiots on the go would be confused by the use of a trademark in commerce, the inclusion of an NFL team in this dispute opens the door to a slightly altered version of this test. We suggest that the court gather up current and ex-NFL players who have been thoroughly concussed at least twice, present them a can of Orange Crush soda along side the entirety of the Denver Broncos defensive squad, tell them to run the 100 yard dash, do a touchdown dance, and then ask them if they are confused. Because even they won't have a hard time telling the difference between soda and a 3-4 defense.

I'll also note for the record that Dr. Pepper's Orange Crush product has managed to survive Orange Crush hot sauce (Trademark 86317242) as well as Orange Crush tobacco (Trademark 77680931), both of which are arguably in more similar industries than an NFL team -- and both of which were allowed to register their trademarks. Regardless, I would expect Dr. Pepper's opposition to fizz out, as it were.

Filed Under: football, orange crush, soda, trademark
Companies: denver broncos, dr. pepper


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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 15 Jun 2016 @ 5:58am

    Dear Sports: The Bigger Picture

    Trademark crazy professional sports needs to pause for a second, step back and see the bigger picture.

    Stop suing over every little trademark issue that you can imagine or contort into a lawsuit.

    Instead, consider. There is a better way forward.

    How much easier would it be to simply patent the business method of suing over sports related trademark infringements? Then you could make money while everyone else in sports continues doing what they are already doing.

    It is also good for the economy in that it helps keep patent troll lawyers employed as well as trademark troll lawyers.

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