NFL pressured a man to give up his request to trademark ‘Harbowl’
With the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens set to square off in Super Bowl XLVII, much of the buzz surrounding the game has centered around the brothers Harbaugh competing against each other for the Vince Lombardi trophy. John and Jim Harbaugh both had great teams heading into the season, so it is not shocking that they are the only two coaches left standing.
A man from Indiana named Roy Fox anticipated a potential Niners-Ravens matchp, so he decided to try to make some money off of it. Last February, Fox says he paid more than $1,000 to file trademarks for the phrases “Harbowl” and “Harbaugh Bowl.” However, his plan never came to fruition because of pressure from the NFL.
“Right before the conference championship games last year, I thought to myself, ‘Can you imagine if these guys played each other?'” Fox told ESPN.com. “If Pat Riley would go through the trouble of trademarking three-peat, why shouldn’t I try this?”
In August, the NFL sent a letter to Fox expressing concerns that his recent trademarks could be confused with the league’s trademark of Super Bowl. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy explained the purpose behind that letter.
“There were two questions asked of him,” McCarthy said. “Was he affiliated with any NFL teams? The answer was no. And was he in any way affiliated with the Harbaugh brothers? And that answer was no.”
However, Fox said it didn’t stop there. He provided follow-up correspondence to ESPN.com that the NFL had sent him, which showed that he was encouraged to abandon his trademarks. When he first asked the league to reimburse the $1,000 he paid to file for the trademarks, his request was denied. He then asked for two Colts season tickets and an autographed photo of Roger Goodell, but was never given anything.
Fox says the notes from the league became increasingly threatening, including one which said the NFL planned to oppose his filing and seek to have him pay its legal bills. The trademarks were abandoned on Oct. 24, 2012. R. Polk Wagner, a professor who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, told ESPN.com that Fox did not have to give up so easily.
“My view is that the league was being overly aggressive in their interpretation that his marks were confusingly similar to ‘Super Bowl,'” Wagner explained.
Mark McKenna, an intellectual law professor at Notre Dame, agreed with Wagner.
“While there’s no question that in this case the trademarks are referring to, in some sense, the Super Bowl, saying that meets the legal standard would be a stretch,” McKenna said.
This certainly looks like a situation where the NFL bullied someone with far less money than them and got away with it. The Super Bowl is not the only bowl game. College football also has several bowls. The Harbaughs are NFL coaches, but I don’t hear anyone saying the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl or Meineke Car Care Bowl are ripping off the NFL’s trademark of Super Bowl.
I’ll tell you one thing — if I was Fox, I’d be throwing a fit right about now that looks something like the one Jim Harbaugh threw during the NFC Championship Game.