Intellectual Property Attorney

Seattle Seahawks May Pay Dearly For Continuing To Use “12th Man” Trademark

The 2013 NFL Football Season culminated with a dominating win by the Seattle Seahawks over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. During the Seahawks’ run to the NFL Championship, much was made over Seattle’s “12th Man” – a designation the team uses in reference to its fans. The “12th Man” was widely credited by the team and the media as having a profound impact on the Seahawks’ success, creating a large volume of noise during games in order to disrupt opposing offenses and players. The perceived impact of the “12th Man” is so great that immediately prior to the start of every Seahawks’ home game, a large flag displaying the number “12” is raised in the Seahawks’ stadium to call the “12th Man” into action.

The Seattle Seahawks, however, did not coin the phrase “12th Man.” The legend of the “12th Man” purportedly began in 1922 when Texas A&M University’s football coach called a former player out of the stands to suit up in a game against the nation’s top ranked team. Today, Texas A&M is the owner of several U.S. federal trademark registrations for “12TH MAN” for a variety of goods and services, including “conducting, organizing and promoting sporting events.”

As reported by Forbes, following litigation over the use of the “12TH MAN” trademark in 2006, Texas A&M granted the Seahawks a license to use the trademark in exchange for a lump sum payment of $100,000 and an annual royalty of $5,000. The license, however, is limited. The Seahawks, for example, cannot sell merchandise bearing the “12TH MAN” trademark and the mark can only be used in seven U.S. states in the Pacific Northwest.

Reports have speculated that the royalty demanded by Texas A&M may increase substantially when the license agreement is up for renewal in 2016. One reason for this is the Seahawks’ newfound success and prevalent use of the “12TH MAN” trademark during and following the Super Bowl run. Another reason is the advent of social media channels, many of which did not exist when the original agreement was negotiated. It may, therefore, now be impractical to restrict use of the trademark to the Pacific Northwest.

From a trademark perspective, the Seahawks’ licensed use of “12TH MAN” actually serves to strengthen the trademark, because in a licensing relationship all use by the licensee typically insures to the benefit of the trademark owner. The effect of the license, however, may be that the trademark is now more strongly associated with the Seattle Seahawks as opposed to Texas A&M, at least on a national basis.

Share Button
Grimes LLC