Monday, May 15, 2017

Commissioner of Baseball Files Four Applications to Register World Series Trophy as a Trademark

Major League Baseball's Commissioner's Trophy, given to the winner of the World Series, may be a federally registered trademark soon. On May 10th, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball filed four federal trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the trophy. These appear to be the first federal trademark applications for the trophy filed by the Commissioner.

The applications describe the mark as "a design representing a three-dimensional object comprised of thirty flags mounted on poles and arranged in a circle on a round base. The interior of the base consists of a slightly raised dome." According to the application, this particular design was first used in commerce on July 7, 2000 (I don't know enough about baseball to know the significance of that date, if any).

The Commissioner filed each application in one class of goods and services (hence the four applications). The goods and services covered by these applications include:
As I've blogged about before, it is certainly possible to obtain a federal trademark registration for the way something looks. Generally, a configuration cannot be not functional if it is to be registered and protected as a trademark. See TMEP 1202.02(a)(iii); 15 USC 1052(e)(5). How does one determine whether a product feature or design is functional? Generally four factors are considered:
  • the existence of a utility patent that discloses the utilitarian advantages of the design sought to be registered;
  • advertising by the applicant that touts the utilitarian advantages of the design;
  • facts pertaining to the availability of alternative designs; and
  • facts pertaining to whether the design results from a comparatively simple or inexpensive method of manufacture.
See TMEP 1202.02(a)(v);  In re Morton-Norwich Prods., Inc., 671 F.2d 1332, 1340-1341 (C.C.P.A. 1982). Additionally, the product feature or design, as with all trademarks, must be inherently distinctive or have acquired distinctiveness. TMEP 1202.02(b). Note that product designs, as opposed to product packaging, can never be inherently distinctive. TMEP 1202.02(b)(i).

The MLB is not the only professional sports league to seek a federal trademark registration for its championship trophy. The NFL has owned a federal registration for the Vince Lombardi Trophy since 1983. And in 2015, the National Hockey League obtained a federal registration for "a three-dimensional configuration of a trophy with a ridged circular base, that narrows into an open bowl shape with curved lines radiating upward from the base of the bowl" (aka the Stanley Cup).

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