Monday, February 25, 2013

Baseball's Evil Empire

It's official:  the New York Yankees are the "Evil Empire" of baseball.  So ruled the United States Trademark Trial and Appeals Board ("TTAB") on February 8, 2013, in an opposition proceeding brought by the Yankees against a trademark applicant who had sought to register the phrase "EVIL EMPIRE."  The origin of the association between this phrase and the Bronx Bombers was recounted by the TTAB:

Both applicant and opposer agree that the term EVIL EMPIRE, as it relates to baseball and these proceedings, was coined in 2002 by the president of the rival Boston Red  Sox baseball club upon learning that a sought-after Cuban  pitcher, Jose Contreras, had signed a contract to play for the Yankees and not the Red Sox.  Upon hearing the news of Contreras’ signing, Red Sox club president, Larry Lucchino, is reported to have said:  “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.”  The term EVIL EMPIRE has since been taken up by the media, Yankees’ fans, and  detractors as a reference to the Yankees.  The Yankees have “implicitly embraced” the nickname EVIL EMPIRE, including playing ominous music from the soundtrack of the STAR WARS movies at baseball games.  [Footnotes omitted.]
The TTAB held that the trademark applicant could not register the mark "EVIL EMPIRE" because the mark was already too closely associated with the Yankees, observing that

By notices of reliance, opposer submitted hundreds [of] news stories, internet articles, blog entries, and message board postings since 2002 showing that the Yankees are known as the EVIL EMPIRE.  Opposer also has stated that it “implicitly embraced” the EVIL EMPIRE theme by adopting music and other indicia from the STAR WARS movies in connection with games played at Yankee Stadium.  [Footnote omitted.]

The TTAB held that the registration by another party would have been likely to sow confusion among consumers as the origin of goods or services denoted by "EVIL EMPIRE."

Usually, trademarks and servicemarks are the result of investment in consumer recognition and good will.  Interesting, then, that the Yankees have been granted control of the "EVIL EMPIRE" on the apparent basis of ill will.  Darth Trademark is surely smiling.