If you’re not already aware, SUPER BOWL is a registered trademark of the NFL. Establishments should think twice before using without a license. The NFL is known to actively enforce its rights in all of its trademarks – mostly against commercial establishments and in some cases non-profits. For example, in 2007, according to SB Nation, the NFL sent a cease and desist letter to a church in Indiana for hosting and advertising a “Super Bowl” party at the church.
Why enforce rights in a mark? A trademark is a "word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services." If a trademark owner does not enforce rights in a mark, the lack of policing and enforcement could lead to dilution, i.e., lack of distinctiveness or weakening of a mark, or even abandonment of the mark. In some cases, where a mark is used to the point of abandonment it becomes generic. For example, ASPIRIN and ESCALATOR were once trademarks in the U.S.
Therefore, the NFL must monitor, police, and enforce, and in some cases even enforce against churches. (In 2007, the NFL attempted to register THE BIG GAME, but ultimately abandoned certain applications after receiving pushback from companies and schools like the University of California and Papa Johns.)
What options does a business owner or company have when seeking to capitalize on the opportunity presented by this popular football contest? If you are planning on advertising an event or deal that involves the Super Bowl, err on the side of caution and use common language substitutes. Some of our favorites:
“Superb Owl 48” - Late-night host Stephen Colbert reported on coverage of football and birds.
“El Plato Supreme” - As reported by Daily Motion, in 2013, Samsung joined the fun and aired a commercial featuring Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd.
For information on how to use substitutes for this weekend’s game or any other questions about IP protection and enforcement, please contact us directly here.