By: Laura Napolitano

February 3, 2015

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Kurtz, www.flickr.com/photos/jefku

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Kurtz, www.flickr.com/photos/jefku

In what can only be described as a bizarre and possibly ingenious revenue generating strategy, the Seattle Seahawks are attempting to corner the market on “12.” That’s right, 12 – a number the Count of Sesame Street has taught children for ages.

Excuse me. Come again?

If you find yourself scratching your head in confusion, you are not alone. How does one obtain an ownership right over something as commonplace as a number? Can the Seattle Seahawks really file paperwork and financially capitalize on a digit that is used in math classes across the globe?

The answer: numbers are off-limits … typically.

When determining whether or not to grant trademark protection to an applicant, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must determine whether the mark is inherently distinctive. In other words, if a mark or phrase immediately identifies a unique product source, rights to the mark are determined by priority of use.[1] Think of the Nike swoosh. Any consumer who sees that logo affixed to an article of clothing or athletic equipment immediately knows that Nike manufactured that product. Nike was the first company to use that logo to identify its products, so the company has trademark rights over the swoosh.

However, when a mark or phrase is less indicative of the product source, that mark must have acquired a secondary meaning before trademark rights can be granted.[2] Such is the case for the Seahawks’ attempt to acquire trademark rights for the number 12. While most consumers would not see “12” and automatically associate it with the Seattle Seahawks, there is an argument to be made that “12” has taken on a secondary meaning in the context of professional sports – one that references the Seattle Seahawks’ fan base.

The Seattle Seahawks football club has risen to national prominence over the past decade. The Seahawks made its first Super Bowl appearance on February 5, 2006.[3] While the team lost its Super Bowl debut to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seahawks have consistently been one of the best teams in the League.[4] On February 2, 2014, Seattle won Super Bowl XLVIII to claim its first championship in franchise history.[5] The Seahawks then had a chance to claim back-to-back Super Bowl championships this past Sunday, but a last minute interception against the New England Patriots dashed this opportunity.

And along the way, the Seattle fan base known affectionately as the “12th Man” (thank you Texas A&M[6]) has garnered as much attention as the players on the field. As any savvy business would, the club has attempted to capitalize on their national acclaim by way of trademarks.

Over the past several years, the Seahawks organization has been on a trademarking torrent unmatched by any other NFL team. The Seattle club has submitted twenty-four trademark applications in the last fifteen months.[7] For comparison’s sake, the Green Bay Packers have filed thirty-six trademark applications in the past forty years.[8]

The Seahawks recently obtained trademark rights for “Legion of Boom,” “Spirit of 12,” and “Bring on the 12.”[9] The team was back at it again when the organization filed trademark applications to obtain rights to “Boom,” the number 12, and “Go Hawks.”[10]

Much to the dismay of Seahawks fans everywhere, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied two trademark applications for the number 12 because of previous trademarks owned by a NASCAR team and a hotel.[11] That’s right, other corporate entities already own the trademark rights to “12.” Back off, Seattle.

Additionally, the Seahawks’ trademark application for “Boom” was turned down due to potential confusion with other brand names.[12] Moreover, the NHL and NBA, the leagues of the Chicago Blackhawks and Atlanta Hawks respectively, are contesting Seattle’s trademark application for “Go Hawks.”[13]

While some might regard this profit-seeking tactic with skepticism and laughter, Chicago-based intellectual property attorney Scott Andresen applauds the Seahawks’ trademarking endeavors. As Andresen notes, trademark applications are relatively inexpensive and can provide a huge return on investment for trademark holders.[14]

It’s unlikely that the Seattle Seahawks will let up on their trademarking efforts any time soon, but for now, “12” is safe. Perched on top of their Hawks Nest, the Seahawks are likely already scanning the world below, ready to grab the next trademarking opportunity with their proverbial talons.


 

[1] Trademark, Legal Information Institute, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/trademark.

[2] Id.

[3] NFL History – Super Bowl Winners, ESPN NFL, http://espn.go.com/nfl/superbowl/history/winners.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Cheryl Wray, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks attempt to trademark the number 12 (yes, the actual number), AL.com (Jan. 25, 2015, 8:01 AM), http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2015/01/super_bowl-bound_seattle_seaha.html. In 2006, intellectual property attorneys for the Seattle club successful negotiated a legal agreement with Texas A&M allowing the NFL organization to use the university’s “12th Man” trademark on promotional materials.

[7] Seahawks Trying To Trademark The Word ‘Boom,’ The Number ‘12’, CBS Seattle (Jan. 22, 2015, 12:59 PM), http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2015/01/22/seahawks-trying-to-trademark-the-word-boom-the-number-12/.

[8] Id.

[9] Brendan Maloy, Seahawks trying to trademark ‘Boom’ and ‘12’, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 22, 2015), http://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2015/01/22/seattle-seahawks-boom-12-trademark.

[10] Lorelei Laird, Seattle Seahawks attempting to trademark the number 12, the word ‘boom’ and more, ABA Journal (Jan. 23, 2015, 12:55 PM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/seattle_seahawks_attempting_to_trademark_the_number_12_the_word_boom.

[11] Dan Carson, The Seattle Seahawks Are Actually Trying to Trademark the Number 12, Bleacher Report (Jan. 23, 2015), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2340274-the-seattle-seahawks-are-actually-trying-to-trademark-the-number-12.

[12] Ryan Van Bibber, The Seahawks want to trademark everything, SB Nation (Jan. 23, 2015, 11:15 AM), http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2015/1/23/7877477/seattle-seahawks-12th-man-trademark-everything.

[13] Lorelei Laird, Seattle Seahawks attempting to trademark the number 12, the word ‘boom’ and more, ABA Journal (Jan. 23, 2015, 12:55 PM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/seattle_seahawks_attempting_to_trademark_the_number_12_the_word_boom.

[14] Dan Carson, The Seattle Seahawks Are Actually Trying to Trademark the Number 12, Bleacher Report (Jan. 23, 2015), http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2340274-the-seattle-seahawks-are-actually-trying-to-trademark-the-number-12.

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