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How Professional Athletes Should Protect Their Intellectual Property

Remember the phrase Linsanity? Tebowing? Guess who owns those trademarks. Not Jeremy Lin. Not Tim Tebow. Not yet, at least.

Yenching Chang, a 35-year-old Alhambra, California resident with no ties to Lin, became the first to apply for a Linsanity trademark. Soon after, Andrew Slayton of Los Altos, California, Yoonsoo Stephen Kim of Duluth, Georgia, and a number of other individuals similarly applied for the Linsanity trademark. These individuals claim “Linsanity” for shirts, pants, eyewear, jewelry, and other athletic apparel. In fact, there are nine (9) live trademarks for “Linsanity” (or “Linsanity 17”) at the moment, and only one (1) of them appears to be owned by Jeremy Lin (see Trademark Serial No. 85541426).

Tim Tebow faces a similar problem. There are 10 live trademarks for “Tebowing,” but Tim Tebow only appears to own six (6) of them.

I haven’t even started to talk about the variations of the trademarks above (i.e. trademarks for “JLin,” “Linsane,” “Tebow Time,” “Tebow Nation,” or “Tebowmania”).

For now, both Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow are struggling to obtain ownership of their name-related trademarks, and may have to pay a hefty fee from the owner to buy them. Under 15 USC § 1052, trademark registration is generally prohibited if the desired trademark consists of or comprises a person’s name without that person’s consent. The problem is that phrases like “Tebowing” and “Linsanity” are not names per se, but rather made up words that are similar to names. As a result, anyone can register those words and phrases, provided they actually use them in a commercial manner. The first person to file for and commercially use the phrase is often the person with the better claim.

High profile athletes who are about to finish college and begin their professional career should consider hiring an attorney to put their business and intellectual property affairs in order.

Take, for example, Robert Griffin III. He played at Baylor, won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, became the second overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, and was ultimately selected by the Washington Redskins. Once Griffin declared for the draft, he created his own company called Thr3escompany, LLC, hired an attorney, and applied for four trademarks for Robert Griffin III, RG3, RGIII, and Unbelievably Believable. The first three trademarks are for shirts, jackets, pants, and other athletic apparel.

The last phrase comes from a statement he made when he received the Heisman Trophy, where he stated that “This is unbelievably believable. It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s unbelievable because great things don’t happen without hard work.” The phrase received some public attention, and as a result, Griffin trademarked it.

Griffin is a great example of how athletes should protect their intellectual property, which often requires them to take action early on. Lastly, don’t forget to register your URL.

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