Officials at Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team didn’t do their homework when changing the team’s name last month.
On July 23, the team announced it would no longer be called the Cleveland Indians and would instead adopt the name Cleveland Guardians. One problem: A male roller derby team in that city has been using the Guardians name for nearly a decade—and it owns the website tied to it as well. (It also holds the rights to the Facebook shortcut URL.)
That’s shaping the two teams up for a fight. The Guardians roller derby team has filed a trademark application for the rights to the name. The MLB team did the same four days prior, but trademarks often go to the first entity to use the name, rather than the first to file for it.
Should the baseball team lose the trademark battle, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will have to change its name, but it’s a possibility, since both companies are in the sports business. The larger question is whether there would be conflict and confusion between the two.
Of course, should it come down to a legal fight, the MLB team has vastly greater financial resources, which would be a tremendous advantage. That said, the publicity over the MLB snafu is shining a tremendous PR spotlight on the roller derby team—and a settlement that would be small for pro baseball owners could fund the roller derby team for several years.
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