Transfer Pricing Associates

Denver Broncos in Trademark Trouble with Texas A&M University

post Tuesday April 3, 2012

A&M 12th man

In the first round of NFL playoffs this past January, the Denver Broncos surprised fans by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Denver.  After the startling win, no one in the stadium gave too much thought to the man that had parachuted into the Broncos stadium during their pre-game festivities, no one that is, except Texas A&M’s Vice President of Marketing, Jason Cook.  As Cook watched the Broncos’ pre-game festivities, he noticed that the man parachuting into the stadium was waving a “12th man” flag.

Any Texas A&M Aggie instantly recognizes this phrase as the same one painted on the student section of the stadium where fans have for years cheered on the Aggies by terming themselves the team’s “12th man”.  What Aggie fans may not know, however, is that the school actually trademarked the term “12th man” in 1990. 

The advantages of registering a trademark includes making it known to the public that the registrant legally owns the mark and has the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration. [Source: USPTO]

The "12th Man" phrase became famous during a 1922 Texas A&M football game in which E. King Gill, a former player, was called from the stands and suited up to take the field to help the injury-ridden Aggies.  A phrase was born and now the “12th man” phrase garners the student section stands at the Aggies’ Kyle Field while a statue honoring Gill stands outside the stadium.

So, you can imagine Jason Cook’s surprise upon seeing his school’s famous phrase strewn across a Denver Broncos flag before the NFL game.  The Broncos, high from their recent win were probably brought back down to earth after seeing a tweet from Cook saying “FYI Broncos, the 12th Man belongs to Texas A&M. We saw the flag today and will defend our trademark”. [Source: Denver Post]

A&M’s proclivity for aggressive defense of their trademark was first seen in a 2006 dispute with the Seattle Seahawks who used the phrase in a similar fashion to the Broncos’ pre-game “12th man” flag.  The dispute was eventually settled out of courts through an agreement that allows the Seahawks to license the trademark from the Aggies.  The agreement outlines that any time the Seahawks use the "12th Man" phrase at its televised games, they must clarify that the trademark is owned by Texas A&M.

In the Broncos case, A&M officials say that their first aim is to educate the Broncos about A&M’s ownership of the phrase, but there may be a possibility of a cease and desist letter and further legal action should the Broncos continue using the phrase.  [Source: SanDiegoTrademarkAttorney Blog]

So, what can we learn from this story?  Don’t mess with Aggie football – you may just find yourself in a legal battle.

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