What do Bryce Harper, Terrell Suggs, Jeremy Lin, and newly minted NBA draftee Anthony Davis have in common (other than being professional athletes that make lots of money)? They each recently applied to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to register trademarks to protect aspects of their persona.
In the case of Washington National's rookie outfielder Bryce Harper, he filed a trademark application for THAT'S A CLOWN QUESTION, BRO., a reference to an answer Harper gave a Canadian reporter after a game with the Blue Jays when the reporter asked Harper, who is 19, whether he would be drinking while the Nationals were in Toronto, where the legal drinking age is 19. Harper, who is reportedly mormon and does not drink, replied with the spontaneous clown statement, which spread virally on the Internet and is now reportedly being applied to t-shirts by Baltimore-based Under Armour.
Today's athletes are by no means trail blazers in the world of intellectual property law. Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken, and many other athletes long ago recognized that creating brands and protecting their names, likenesses, and other aspects of their persona is part of furthering their careers. Athletes have sought trademark protection for nicknames, their initials (TW=Tiger Woods), symbols, and other marks used to promote themselves and their side businesses. Today, however, athletes are also seeking to protect catch-phrases and statements they make publicly, sometimes days after making the statements, and before others swoop in and cash in.
In the case of Baltimore Ravens MVP linebacker Terrell Suggs, he filed a trademark application for BALL SO HARD UNIVERSITY, a reference to a fictional university Suggs mentioned when introducing himself on national television at the start of an NFL game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011. Brian Bussells filed a trademark application in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the next day, beating Suggs' application by a few days. Both are selling t-shirts and other apparel with the mark.
Jeremy Lin filed a trademark application to protect LINSANITY, which was a pervasive headline during the shortened 2011-2012 NBA season. The term was a reference to the ubiquitous hype that followed Lin's rising popularity early in the season with the New York Knicks. He wasn't the only one to file an application for the mark, as several others filed trademark applications for LINSANITY.
Professional athletes know their time on the field, court, pitch, pool, or fairways may be finite, and so too are the lucrative multi-year and multi-million dollar salary offers. But the value of their persona may live on long past their prime performance years. Trademarking catch-phrases, or licensing other aspects of an athlete’s persona, can mean big bucks down the road. Arnold Palmer, for example, has earned millions by licensing aspects of his persona (e.g., his name and image are used in connection with products and other endorsements), which he manages with his agent through a successful business called Arnold Palmer Enterprises.
And then there is Anthony Davis, who is not only seeking trademark protection for his name, but he recently filed trademark applications for FEAR THE BROW, BROW DOWN, and RAISE THE BROW, a reference to the star basketball player's now famous eyebrows.