from the la-la-land dept
There may be nothing more frustrating than trademarks being granted for terms that serve as simple geographic identifiers. With a couple of recent stories revolving around names of cities, or acronyms of them, it's probably time to consider whether some kind of official reform of trademark rules needs to be undertaken to keep companies from locking up such broad terms for commercial purposes. And there may be at least a slim chance that this conversation is starting, with the high profile example of the newly minted Los Angeles Chargers NFL team serving as notice.
It was only this past week that the Chargers finally announced what everyone already knew was going to happen: the team is moving to the city of angels. As is SOP for an organization of its size, the team filed trademark applications for several iterations of its team name, including the term "LA Chargers." And that, almost immediately, is where the problems began to arise.
Unfortunately for the team, its “LA Chargers” trademark application ran into an issue. On Dec. 20, LA Gear, the ‘80s-era athletic apparel company, filed a Notice of Opposition with the Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board related to the apparel portion of the “LA Chargers” application, on the grounds that it conflicts with LA Gear’s trademarks, and is likely to cause consumer confusion as to the source of the goods.
In the opposition, the Chargers are referred to as “Applicant” and LA Gear is “Opposer.” The document lists 22 U.S. trademark registrations owned by LA Gear. The oldest dates back to 1985. Two of LA Gear’s registrations are in the form of logos that consist of the letters “LA” – meaning those logo registrations do not include the word “Gear.”
This. Is. Ridiculous. Allowing for a monopoly on all things apparel over the acronym of the second largest city in the United States has absolutely zero to do with protecting the consuming public from confusion, no matter what LA Gear's opposition filing states. This is all to do with pushing the Chargers instead into some kind of lucrative licensing deal. And, for once, there is actually going to be some validity in common claims that failing to police the mark can result in it no longer being protected, particularly given that examples of LA Gear's failure in doing so includes examples analogous to the Chargers.
Back in 2008, Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy received a trademark for a logo that includes the words “LA Galaxy.” The Trademark Office records for that application show no opposition filed by LA Gear. It’s possible that the MLS team may have negotiated a private agreement with LA Gear to avoid these issues, and the Chargers/NFL haven’t been willing or able to do so. It seems more likely that LA Gear’s opposition to the LA Chargers trademark is a new tactic, and that the company intends to test the boundaries of its trademark rights in phrases including the word “LA,” at least as they apply to athletic apparel.
And that's hopefully a test that it will flunk, should the Chargers seek to have LA Gear's trademark protections repealed. And they should be, just as the mark never should have been granted in the first place. Were employees of the Trademark Office to have simply asked themselves whether approving the LA Gear trademark application did more to serve the public or the applying company, the conclusion would have been clear, as would have been the appropriateness of rejecting the application to begin with. Instead, this must happen on the back end, hopefully with a challenge to the mark by the Chargers.
Sadly, some are predicting that the team won't bother.
LA Gear’s claim may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s not impossible that the Trademark Office – or a court, should this dispute go that far – would rule in its favor. With all the drama around the team’s departure from San Diego, I’d bet the Chargers will simply come to a settlement agreement with LA Gear rather than put their incredibly valuable brand at risk of an adverse court ruling.
Here's hoping the team shows some backbone instead. No single entity ought to be able to control the acronym for a major city in this way.