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How Difficult Is It for Sports Stars to Get Trademarks?

How Difficult Is It for Sports Stars to Get Trademarks?
By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seldom misses his targets on the football field, but his recent forward pass into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office went badly awry.

The 42-year-old Brady, winner of a record six Super Bowls and husband of a supermodel, filed an application to the USPTO to trademark the term, “Tom Terrific.” The agency, however, rejected Brady’s request, saying that that nickname rightfully belongs to another great athlete, former New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver – even though it is not trademarked.

“The mark TOM TERRIFIC points uniquely and unmistakably to Tom Seaver, and the fame or reputation of Tom Seaver as ‘Tom Terrific’ is such that a connection between Mr. Seaver and the applied-for goods would be presumed,” the USPTO concluded.

Pro Athletes Are No Strangers to the USPTO

The trademarking of nicknames and catchphrases has become common by top athletes to keep others from cashing in on them. For example, anyone who makes a T-shirt bearing the phrase, “Mr. October,” is probably running afoul of a trademark owned by former star outfielder Reggie Jackson (who gained that nickname for his productivity in October post-season playoff games).

After emerging from a bottomless wave of acrimony from New York sports fans for his apparent audacity, Brady claimed that he didn’t really want the nickname for himself – in fact, he said, he didn’t like the phrase.

And that’s why he wanted to trademark it. So no one could use it.


The Varied Things That Athletes Trademark

So, if athletes can trademark the nicknames they value (or, in Brady’s supposed case, not value), what else can they trademark?

Here are a few:

  • The former great Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has trademarked a lightning-bolt logo.
  • Bolt (again) has trademarked his famous “lightning bolt” pose. Former football quarterback Tim Tebow has trademarked his “Tebowing” pose: kneeling on one knee while holding a clenched fist to his forehead.
  • Slogans. NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III has trademarked several, including “Dream Big Live Bigger” and “No Pressure No Diamonds.”
  • Logos for their own clothing lines. Former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens owned a copyright for a TO logo on his Prototype 81 line of menswear.

While it may be hard to believe, another area where athletes can gain copyright protection is quotes. In late 2015, the USPTO actually granted running back Marshawn Lynch’s application to trademark the phrase, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” This is the phrase that Lynch repeated, over and over, on Super Bowl Media Day 10 months earlier because he’d been fined for his poor behavior with the press during the year and only showed up for Super Bowl Media Day to escape a six-figure fine.

Poor Tom Brady must be gnashing his teeth.

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