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Trademark lawsuit over “Cleveland Guardians” gets messy

On Behalf of | Nov 4, 2021 | Intellectual Property Law

The baseball team formerly known as the Cleveland Indians has been under pressure for a very long time to ditch their problematic moniker and trademarks — and they finally did.

However, the next few moves they made could be a master class in what not to do when trying to secure the rights to someone else’s trademark.

What’s going on with the trademark dispute?

Earlier this year, the Major League Baseball (MLB) team’s owners announced that the Cleveland Indians would henceforth be called the “Cleveland Guardians.” The only problem is that they seemed to forget (or blatantly ignore) the fact that the local roller derby team was already using the name and owned that trademark.

Here’s why this is so bad for the team:

  • Trademarks can be bought and sold. The roller derby team, being much smaller, less well-known and generally less profitable, would probably be willing to sell their rights to the name for an appropriate fee.
  • By announcing their intention to use the name before negotiating its purchase price from the roller derby team, the MLB drove the value of the name up. Had they negotiated and made a deal before they made the new name public, they would have likely been able to secure the rights at a much lower price.

Because they were unwise, the baseball team found it’s lowball offer for the right to call themselves the Cleveland Guardians promptly rejected.

Now, there’s been a complaint filed by Guardians Roller Derby LLC that alleges that the team lied on their trademark application by asserting nobody else was using the “Cleveland Guardians” moniker.

These are the kinds of situations that can be avoided with careful, strategic approaches to other companies when you want to make a fair deal (and don’t want the price to skyrocket). While the outcome of this case remains to be seen, the lessons here are good to note.