When entrepreneurs, tech startups and digital media companies start due diligence on trademark protection and brand name selection and adoption, the issue of their trademark, logo, or slogan being taken by another company can arise. As a result, a trademark dispute can arise between the two companies using the same or a similar trademark that has a likelihood of confusion and if no settlement is reached, ultimately one company has to rebrand.
Washington Redskins Rebrand to Washington Commanders
The issue of rebranding when faced with existing live trademark on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) resurfaced recently when a franchise of National Football League (NFL) attempted to rebrand their team name from Redskins to the Washington Football Team, and when faced with a legal dispute, eventually rebranded to the Washington Commanders.
The Need to Rebrand Trademark to a New Name
A few years ago, backlash reached a tipping point against the Washington DC football team for using the term “Redskins” in connection with exhibition of football games, football merchandise, and related goods and services because the term “Redskins” was deemed insensitive to Native American groups.
After some market research, the Washington DC football team decided to rebrand to the Washington Football Club, and subsequently filed U.S. Trademark Application for the brand.
This application faced a refusal, also called an Office Action, citing a U.S. Trademark Registration issued to an individual named Philip McCauley in 2015, and this could create a likelihood of confusion among consumers, reported Sports Illustrated. Additionally, the office said the name is problematically generic. As a result, the NFL and its Washington DC franchise pivoted once again, deciding to land on COMMANDERS as the new team name and mascot. They even managed to score the top-level domain name https://www.commanders.com/ for the official team website @commanders for the official Twitter handle.
Trademark Disputes Can Lead To Rebranding
This case illustrates several trademark principles important to entrepreneurs, technology startups, small businesses, and digital media companies looking to protect their trademarks from infringement, and establish trademark priority as early as possible in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Because likelihood of confusion and priority prevented the NFL from choosing their first option for a rebrand, the team was forced to select a completely different brand name, and while some people may like this new name better than the former rebrand, not all companies are lucky enough to be able to rebrand twice, and consultation with an experienced branding and trademark attorney is highly recommended for tech startups and entrepreneurs who want to maximize their options and brand – or rebrand- protection strategies.