Generic Fair Use

... where pop culture meets intellectual property law

Tag: athletes

This is not how trademarks work

Colin Kaepernick’s “Intent to Use” trademark filing explained

ESPN once again published another article about an athlete seeking to protect his trademark rights in the United States. I have written about this topic before. More than a few times – to be precise. I still maintain that these “athlete trademarks” are getting absurd. Colin Kaepernick, however, is a substantially different athlete in terms of branding and awareness and overall newsworthiness. Kaepernick’s company filed a series of new applications to register a particular mark on October 5, 2018 with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This provides another good opportunity for an analysis of what trademarks are and how trademark registrations work.

More importantly, it allows for continued discussion on how “trademark” and “trademark registration” are entirely different things. Plus, another reminder of the fact that there is no such thing as a “trademark application.”

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When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong? The Supreme Court declines to hear the “Madden NFL” appeal.

In January 2015, in Davis v. Electronic Arts Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the makers of the extremely popular Madden NFL video game series could not overcome former players’ claims for violation of publicity rights by claiming First Amendment protections.[1] Electronic Arts Inc., the Defendant and the maker of the game, eventually appealed to the United States Supreme Court on grounds that they are essentially being penalized for making a game that is “too realistic” and life-like.[2] An emboldened use of the “we are just too good at our jobs” defense, perhaps?

On Monday, March 21, 2016, without any further commentary, the Supreme Court denied EA Sports’ petition to hear the appeal. Procedurally, this is called a denial of certiorari, and it means that the Ninth Circuit’s verdict remains the final judicial determination on the issues presented. Colloquially speaking, and while maintaining the proper sports metaphors, this means the Supreme Court punted.

But what really is the issue here? Where do publicity rights end and the First Amendment begins? Why does EA Sports contend that it has no obligation to pay retired professional athletes for the use of their images and likeness rights?

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