Intellectual Property Attorney

In Advance of NFL Draft, Johnny Manziel Continues Efforts To Protect Personal Brand

We previously blogged (1,
2) about Johnny Manziel (aka “Johnny Football”), the former Texas A&M quarterback and current NFL draft prospect who has sought to register his nickname “JOHNNY FOOTBALL” as a trademark. Manziel is one of the most analyzed college football prospects heading into the upcoming NFL Draft. Scouts and commentators are deeply divided regarding how Manziel’s skills will translate to the NFL, some believing that he will be the first overall pick in the draft and an NFL star, and others believing that he will be a long shot to succeed. Regardless of the opinions about his play, there is little doubt that Manziel garners a great deal of media attention.

In late 2012, Kenneth R. Reynolds Family Investments (“Reynolds”), an entity unrelated to Manziel, filed an intent-to-use trademark application to register “JOHNNY FOOTBALL” for clothing, footballs and electronic game software. In early 2013, Manziel filed his own trademark application for “JOHNNY FOOTBALL” for clothing and entertainment services. Because Manziel’s trademark application was filed second, it was suspended pending the outcome of the earlier-filed application.

The Trademark Office has since issued a refusal of the Reynolds application on grounds that “JOHNNY FOOTBALL” identifies a particular living individual (i.e., Manziel), and the trademark application did not contain his consent. Under U.S. Trademark Law, written consent is required for registration of a mark containing a name, nickname, stage name or pseudonym of a living individual. Reynolds submitted arguments against the refusal, but the Trademark Office recently maintained the refusal based on media articles clearly referring to Manziel as “JOHNNY FOOTBALL”. While not a final decision, and while an appeal is still possible, the refusal will likely remove one impediment to Manziel eventually obtaining a trademark registration for “JOHNNY FOOTBALL”. Some sources have even reported that Reynolds has now assigned its rights to Manziel, although no assignment has been recorded.

Unfortunately for Manziel, the Reynolds application is not the only prior pending application that he may need to deal with. U.S. PTO records indicate that shortly before Manziel filed his trademark application, a third party applied to register “JOHNNY BASEBALL” and “JOHNNY BASKETBALL” for clothing. In addition, there is a prior registration for “JUANITO FUTBOL” for clothing.

According to ESPN, Manziel now has taken additional steps to capitalize on his personal brand by filing trademark applications for “THE HOUSE THAT JOHNNY BUILT” and “MANZIIEL” for clothing. Like “JOHNNY FOOTBALL”, “THE HOUSE THAT JOHNNY BUILT” became the subject of a dispute when a third party (allegedly one of Manziel’s friends) applied to register the mark before Manziel did. The previous application, however, has now been withdrawn, and Manziel has filed his own trademark application for this mark.

Manziel’s efforts are notable because, if he is indeed a high pick in the upcoming NFL draft, he will likely receive an unprecedented level of media coverage and may become the “face of the franchise” of the team that drafts him. According to ESPN, Manziel has already signed a lucrative, multi-year endorsement deal with Nike, after having considered offers from Adidas, Under Armour and New Balance. As such, Manziel will be well positioned to capitalize on his trademark rights and, more particularly, merchandising opportunities to exploit the various monikers that he has sought to protect.

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