This year, at least three sports phrases have made lots of general media headlines: (i) Linsanity; (ii) That’s a clown question, Bro; and (iii) Fear the Brow / Raise the Brow. If you are not familiar with these phrases that (i) resulted in many trademark filings for variations on the term; (ii) have been quoted by Senators, tv commentators, and more; and (iii) were filed by the #1 pick in the NBA draft a few day prior to that draft, a quick internet search will fill you in.
While these have received a lot of attention, they also re-raise issues about protecting any phrases (such as “YOU’RE FIRED”). When does a “catchphrase” slapped on a tee shirt amount to a trademark? And how easily can such trademarks be enforced? I will save discussion of those issues for another day – in part because there are not many clear answers, every situation is unique depending on how the phrase is used. But rest assured that television commentators should not be afraid to use the phrases in discussion on air – I actually heard more than one TV sports analyst fretting over just that in the last few days.
Despite all the recent attention, sports phrase trademarks have been around for a while.
The most widely cited example is probably Pat Riley’s THREE-PEAT. Riley wisely filed to register it after the Lakers won two championships in a row. But the Lakers failed in their bid in 1989 to with their third in row. However, when the Bully won their third in a row in 1993, Riley cashed in as shirts using the phrase he had registered (and licensed?) were quite popular.
As we live in a world which is more and more media driven, and as it continues to get easier and quicker to make shirts or otherwise cash in, I expect this trend to continue and grow.
Here are a few other popular sports phrases that have been registered over the years, and links to the USPTO registrations:
LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE [Michael Buffer]
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE [Muhammed Ali]
YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS [John McEnroe]
HOLY COW! [Harry Caray]
AWESOME BABY [Dick Vitale]
GETCHA POPCORN READY [Terrell Owens]
Can you think of others? Let me know in the comments.