Johnny Trademark? – TMs for QBs

Blog Post

Crop top-sporting Ezekiel Elliott may not protect his midriff, but he is certainly taking steps to protect his personal brand. The Ohio State running back made a name for himself after rushing nearly 700 yards in three postseason games last season, and is now looking to capitalize on it.

Last week, Elliott applied for five U.S. trademarks, including his nicknames “Zeke” and “Eze” in association with apparel, along with “Hero in a half shirt” and “In crop we trust.” Additionally, perhaps looking to branch out into the restaurant business like other former Buckeyes, including Eddie George, Elliott applied for a trademark on the phrase, “Zeke’s Crop Top Bar and Grill” in association with restaurants.

While the NCAA generally prohibits its players from cashing in on their fame and athletic successes – just ask the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes football team – by protecting their personal brands through the registration of trademarks, players can lay the groundwork for future licensing deals and prevent others from exploiting their personas in the meantime.

In professional sports, athletes routinely secure trademark registrations for their nicknames and other personally-associated phrases, and then license the rights to others, e.g., allowing companies to print their nicknames on tee-shirts and other memorabilia. Some college athletes like Elliott are working to secure their trademark registrations before graduation so that no one else snatches up their trademarks, thus creating an expensive battle to gain the rights to their own nickname.

For example, in 2012, an investment firm based in College Station, Texas, the very city where Johnny Manziel was quickly rising to fame as Texas A&M's star quarterback, filed for the trademark on the phrase “Johnny Football.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office refused registration of the trademark because the phrase, “Johnny Football” consists of a name identifying a particular living individual who did not provide written consent to register the mark. Manziel himself filed for a trademark on the phrase “Johnny Football” three months later and was eventually granted the mark after a delay due to the first “Johnny Football” trademark application. Sometimes the registration process is not so straightforward and the best way to prevent any delay in registration is to file for a trademark registration early – even before you begin using the mark in commerce – before someone else can do the same.

Elliott, for instance, probably will not have time to open his “Zeke’s Crop Top Bar and Grill” in the next few months, but he has already begun the process of registering the mark. And who knows? Perhaps future Ohio State students will be able to stop by Zeke’s Crop Top Bar and Grill in Columbus for a beer before the game, but in the meantime, Eddie George's Grille 27 will have to suffice.

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