July 29, 2014

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Trademarks are sign of times in sporting world

Here’s the epitome of arrogance and greed. The NFL actually attempted to trademark the phrase, “The Big Game,” by filing an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
America is logo, slogan and trademark crazy. Someday you won’t be able to utter a cliché without infringing on somebody’s property and “Big Game” already was the property of Cal and Stanford. Their annual football meeting has been known as the “Big Game” for over a century in the Bay Area.
Here in the Midwest, most of us didn’t know that. I knew Stanford-Cal was a traditional game. How big? I never thought about it, but their lawyers answered that question. They put on their game faces and filed for an extension of their “big game” rights with the patent office.
The NFL started backpedaling and a few days ago withdrew its application.
“It was never our intent to go after Cal and Stanford,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
The NFL’s targets were pirates whose advertising allude to the Super Bowl as “The Big Game.” The NFL calls this “ambush marketing.”
Who knows more about “ambush marketing” than the NFL. They stole Roman numerals from the Romans and didn’t pay a single lira. The NFL throws the words “Hail Mary” around as though the prayer were coined at halftime of a game in Canton.
If it ever comes to this, Roger Goodell’s NFL lawyers are no match for lawyers from the Vatican, which pretty much owns rights to it.
Years ago the Minnesota Vikings called their defense the “Purple People Eaters,” inspired by a popular song. Don’t lawyers call that theft of intellectual property?
The Denver Broncos’ old “Orange Crush” defense was purloined from a popular beverage.
So the NFL shouldn’t be sensitive about somebody using the expression, “Big Game.” Believe me, the NFL didn’t invent it. Harvard-Yale was around long before the NFL.
Next thing you know, St. Ed’s and St. Ignatius will attempt to patent the expression, “Holy War.”
Several years ago pro basketball coach Pat Riley did trademark the phrase “Threepeat.” Not even his bosses in the NBA were entitled to use it in promotional material without compensating Riley.
Too bad Mean Joe Greene didn’t patent “One for the Thumb.” Am I allowed to use the words “Mean Joe” without purchasing the rights from the guy who pinned the nickname on Mean Joe?
If you took this to the extreme, we could not engage in conversation without paying a rights fee to someone who said it first.
Luckily, that’s not the case. A penny saved is a penny earned.
Dan Coughlin is a columnist for The Chronicle-Telegram and a sportscaster for Channel 8. Contact him at ctsports@chroniclet.com.