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5 trademark lessons from this year’s Super Bowl® ads

Posted by ipelton on: February 8th, 2016

As usual, the commercials featured during the Super Bowl broadcast on Sunday night garnered a lot of attention. After all, they were generally new, featured a lot of celebrity appearances, and cost a fortune to produce and run. This year’s commercial’s provide some terrific lessons for businesses about managing their trademarks. Here are my top five takeaways:

  1. Use the trademark symbol. Ad execs frequently leave off the TM or ® for stylistic reasons. But when the brand exposure it at its biggest on a stage such as the Super Bowl, there is a tremendous value in using the proper symbol as it provides both legal protections and warnings, and a signal to consumers that this is proprietary, unique, and important. Many of the ads run last night featured prominent uses of trademark symbols. For example, Taco bell made sure that its new Queslupa™ appeared in a special font and featured the ™. For smaller business, using the trademark symbols on website headers, social media, and product packaging are all prominent and valuable.
  2. File trademark applications as early as possible. Taco Bell launched the Quesalupa™ today, the day after it was featured in a Super Bowl commercial. But the USPTO application to protect the name was filed in November of 2014. That means that Taco Bell’s rights in the name don’t begin today or yesterday, they began more than 14 months ago. If anyone had come up with a confusingly similar name for a related product in the interim on purpose or by accident, Taco Bell may have been able to stop them. Similarly, Quicken Loans filed to protect Rocket Mortgage in September of 2014. Even filing just before a business publicly launches a new name is better than waiting until afterwards. For example, Marmot filed to protect the new “Fall in Love with the Outside” slogan just 10 days before Sunday’s game.
  3. Creative names stick better. Rocket Mortgage, Quesalupa, Axe, FitBit, and others are smart coined or suggestive words. They are much more fun and memorable than “Easy Mortgage,” “Fitness Bracelet,” “Breakfast Quesadilla”, or “Scented Body Spray.”
  4. Emphasize distinctive slogans or shapes. The Heinz  “Weiner Stampede” commercial was chosen as one of the top ads by many. It features the visual of the Heinz bottle shape and keystone logo, both of which are iconic and well marketed to associate customers to the product without even having to use words. But words can be powerful too, particularly slogans that tell customers more about a product or service. Here in Washington, DC, Michael and Son ran a commercial that featured a famous boxing champ saying and singing its slogan, If you can’t, we can! {Full disclosure – the slogan was registered with the USPTO by our firm.}
  5. Plaster your brand everywhere you can. During the halftime show, the Pespsi logo received tremendous exposure as it was in a commercial, on signs held by fans on the field, in the corner of the television broadcast, and on the background of the stadium behind the performers. To get your brand to stick and leave a memorable impression, use your trademarks as often as possible in places such as business cards, email signatures, letterhead, product labels, newsletters, and more.

The Super Bowl story can be written from many angles, both on the field an off. It turns out that brand owners could learn a lot from the commercials on Sunday if they paid attention and use these tips in their business.

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Last year, one of the big stories the day after the Super Bowl® was about the “Left Shark.” Left Shark was a dancer in Katie Perry’s halftime show that was (intentionally?) off beat. Who was Left Shark? Was their performance on purpose?

And then the IP issues arose… who owns the rights to the Left Shark name? And copyright (and/or trademark) rights in the costume design?

Within a week after the Super Bowl, Perry’s company (Killer Queen, LLC) applied to register both LEFT SHARK and RIGHT SHARK trademarks with the USPTO covering variety of goods and services, including live musical performances. Currently, both applications have been approved by the USPTO and published in the public record (the ‘Official Gazette’).

Perry’s company also filed to register the design of the shark (below), but that application was abandoned shortly thereafter.

Mark Image

However, a few days later, Perry’s company filed two new applications for shark designs using drawings, instead of a photo of the costume [click images for USPTO records]:

Mark Image
Mark Image

[Perry has also filed an application for DRUNK SHARK!]

The LEFT SHARK craze has continued, as you can actually wager whether LEFT SHARK will make an appearance at this year’s halftime show! Remarkably, I don’t recall seeing any Left Shark costumes last Halloween….

TIP: when working with independent contractors, employees, and others (such as the dancers, and costume designs for Katie Perry’s performance) make sure that written agreements are in place and that they clearly spell out who owns what intellectual property rights from the venture.

 

Related stories from around the web:

Sunday is the Super Bowl®. In addition to the football game, Super Bowl Sunday is all really about brands – teams, television networks, advertisers, celebrities, and more.

For this year’s game, here is a lineup of some of valuable and important trademarks that will be on display Sunday (click trademarks or images for U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records):

  • UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX STADIUM – registered for Entertainment services, namely providing multi-purpose stadium and athletic field facilities for sporting events, concerts, corporate events, social functions, conventions and trade and consumer shows; information services, namely, providing information relating to sporting and entertainment events and activities by means of the internet
  • Halftime performer KATY PERRY – Entertainment services in the nature of live musical performances…
    • LET LOVE RULE (t-shirts) from Perry’s special guest Lenny Kravitz

NEW ENGLAND TRADEMARKS

  • DO YOUR JOB – registered in 2014 for entertainment services, namely, providing expert commentary on sports events via the Internet
  • NEXT GAME UP – registered in 2014 for entertainment services, namely, providing online information in the field of sports and sporting events related to football games, competitions and exhibitions; providing a website featuring photographs and other multimedia materials in the field of sports and sporting events related to football games, competitions and exhibitions.
  • THE BELESTRATOR – Entertainment services, namely, providing expert commentary on sports events via television or the Internet
  • WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS – Fan clubs; online fan clubs; entertainment services, namely, providing online information in the field of sports and sporting events related to football games, competitions and exhibitions; providing a website featuring photographs and other multimedia materials in the field of sports and sporting events related to football games, competitions and exhibitions; providing online newsletters and alerts in the field of sports and sporting events related to football games, competitions and exhibitions
  • Trademark image – variety of goods and services
  • PATS – T-shirts, sweatshirts sold to promote an affiliation or association with a professional football team
  • REVIS ISLAND [Darrelle Revis] – t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats, footwear, sleepwear, swimwear
  • Trademark image[Tom Brady] – entertainment and education in the nature of on-going audio visual and multimedia interactive programming providing information on celebrities distributed over a global computer network; Clothing, namely, hats and shirts
  • WILFORK YOU UP [Vince Wilfork] – T-shirts
  • GET GRONK’D and GRONK NATION – owned by Gronk Nation, with statement “The name(s), portrait(s), and/or signature(s) shown in the mark identifies Robert Gronkowski, Christopher Gronkowski, Daniel Gronkowski, whose consent(s) to register is made of record.”
  • BLOUNT FORCE TRAUMA [LaGarette Blount] – t-shirts
  • TROPHY TOWN [owned by Kraft Group LLC] – T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball caps, knit hats

SEATTLE TRADEMARKS

  • Trademark image– several registrations
  • SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – ENTERTAINMENT SERVICES IN THE FORM OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL GAMES AND EXHIBITIONS
  • WE ARE 12
  • THE 12’s – pending application for Arranging for ticket reservations for professional football games and other football entertainment events connected with professional football; Arranging of contests for fans in connection with professional football games; Entertainment in the nature of professional football games; Entertainment services, namely, arranging and conducting of competitions for games of skill and chance and spirit competitions for professional football sports fans; Entertainment services, namely, conducting contests for fans in connection with professional football games; Fan clubs for professional football fans; organization of professional football games and games for professional football fans; organization of sports events in the field of professional football; Organizing community sporting and cultural events; Organizing exhibitions for the entertainment of professional football fans; Organizing sporting events, namely, professional football and sporting events for professional football fans; Providing information relating to professional sports and professional sporting events; Providing on-line newsletters in the field of professional football; Providing online newsletters in the field of professional football via e-mail
  • Trademark image– registered for ‘Accepting and administering monetary charitable contributions; Charitable fund raising; Philanthropic services concerning monetary donations; Political fund-raising services; Providing college scholarships; Providing educational scholarships; Providing grants to charitable organizations’
  • LEGION OF BOOM – towels
  • BLITZ – registered by Seahawks for “Entertainment services in the nature of a team mascot for a professional football team; public appearances by a mascot, both live and via broadcast over television, cable, satellite and/or worldwide web”
  • BEAST MODE: Registered by Marshawn Lynch for t-shirts
  • RUSSELL WILSON owns several pending applications, including:
    • DANGERUSS WILSON – Entertainment services, namely, live, televised and movie appearances by a professional entertainer; Entertainment services, namely, participation in professional football; Entertainment services, namely, personal appearances by a professional athlete
    • WHY NOT YOU –  charitable fundraising

SOME OTHER GENERAL BIG GAME TRADEMARK REGISTRATIONS

 Related Posts:

Sunday is the Super Bowl®. In addition to the football game, Super Bowl Sunday is all about brands – teams, television networks, advertisers, celebrities, and more.

For this year’s game, here is a lineup of some of valuable and important trademarks that will be on display Sunday (click trademarks or images for U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records):

  • METLIFE STADIUM – registered for many things, including “Arena services, namely, providing facilities for sports, concerts, conventions and exhibitions; Providing of food and drink”
  • Trademark image– registered for many things, including “Arena services, namely, providing facilities for sports, concerts, conventions and exhibitions; Providing of food and drink”
  • Trademark image – The “swoosh” from Nike, registered for uniforms, on both team’s uniforms will be on display (see excellent NY Times article)
  • 420Bowl – application filed on January 20, 2014
  • BRUNO MARS – several registrations including this one for music
  • Trademark image– registered for “entertainment services in the nature of live performances by a musical group”

SEATTLE TRADEMARKS

  • Trademark image– several registrations
  • WE ARE 12
  • Trademark image– registered for ‘Accepting and administering monetary charitable contributions; Charitable fund raising; Philanthropic services concerning monetary donations; Political fund-raising services; Providing college scholarships; Providing educational scholarships; Providing grants to charitable organizations’
  • BEAST MODE: Registered by Marshawn Lynch for t-shirts
  • RUSSELL WILSON owns several pending applications, including:
  • DANGERUSS WILSON – clothing
  • NO TIME 2 SLEEP – clothing

DENVER TRADEMARKS

  • Mark Image– several registrations for a variety of goods and services
  • Trademark image– registered for ‘professional football games and exhibitions’
  • Trademark image– registered for charitable fund raising services
  • Mark Image (Knowshon Moreno logo) – registered for shirts

SOME OTHER GENERAL BIG GAME TRADEMARK REGISTRATIONS

The NFL is the king of branding. Their TV and licensing contracts are no doubt some of the most valuable ones out there. And of course, the Super Bowl® is one of the most well known events — and a misunderstood trademark.

Here in the Washington, D.C. area every summer and fall brings talk of the Redskins, and the always lofty expectations for the team. I heard on the radio this week that the start quarterback, RG3 (Robert Griffin III), was fined for wearing non-conforming apparel during the warm-ups of a preseason game. He didn’t even play in the game. See CBSSports.com article: Redskins QB Robert Griffin fined $10,000 for apparel violation.

The NFL had every right, I presume, to contractually protect Nike, whose apparel the players and teams wear. So on the one hand, they had to discipline RG3 so that others wouldn’t do the same in the future. But on the other hand, they made news out of the issue and caused the media to then cover and mention that RG3 is endorsed by Adidas. And, as you can see here, the media then published photos of RG3 in the Adidas warm-ups before the game.

So perhaps they would be best to contemplate the Streisand Effect — by attempting to quash the non-conforming apparel, they actually brought increased attention to it.

Robert Griffin was fined $10,000 for wearing an authorized t-shirt during warmups on Monday. (USATSI)

Image by USATSI via CBSSports.com