Intellectual Property Attorney

No “Three-Peat” This Year, But Pat Riley Continues To Profit From Trademark Rights

We previously posted a series of blogs (1,
3) about athletes and celebrities who seek to capitalize on their nicknames and catchphrases by protecting them as trademarks. Former Texas A&M and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has filed trademark applications for both his nickname, “JOHNNY FOOTBALL”, and the catchphrase, “THE HOUSE THAT JOHNNY BUILT”. Obtaining trademark registrations for phrases and slogans that have entered the public lexicon opens up valuable licensing and merchandising opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of obtaining trademark protection for a catchphrase is the registration of “THREE-PEAT”. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Pat Riley (“Riley”), former NBA player and coach, and current President of the NBA’s Miami Heat, submitted a trademark application for “THREE-PEAT” for clothing in 1988. At the time, Riley was the head coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and the Lakers were attempting to win a third consecutive NBA Championship. Players and fans of the team began to use the term “THREE-PEAT” (a play on words with “repeat”) to refer to winning three consecutive championships. Reportedly, Lakers player Byron Scott actually coined the term. Riley’s company has gone on to obtain numerous trademark registrations for “THREE-PEAT” in various iterations (including “THREE PEAT”, “THREEPEAT”, “3 PEAT” and “3-PEAT”) for various categories of merchandise (including clothing, mugs, paper pennants and jewelry). Riley reportedly earns a five to ten percent royalty on sales of licensed merchandise.

Following the success of “THREE-PEAT”, boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer obtained a trademark registration for his signature catchphrase “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE”. The trademark has reportedly generated over $400 million in licensing revenue. The key, of course, is coming up with the next phrase or slogan that everyone will want to use. Complicating this endeavor is the fact that terms that merely describe their goods or services cannot function as trademarks and cannot be registered. In addition, trademarks must actually be used on goods or in connection with services in order to maintain trademark rights. Failure to use a trademark in commerce for three consecutive years results in abandonment.

Riley’s Lakers failed to win their third consecutive NBA Championship in 1989, but since that time the feat has been accomplished by the Chicago Bulls on two separate occasions in the 1990’s, and by the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000’s. Ironically, Riley was not involved with those teams. This month, Riley’s Miami Heat competed in the NBA Finals with a chance to join the Bulls and Lakers by winning their third consecutive NBA Championship, but they fell short, losing to the San Antonio Spurs.

There is no doubt that Riley is a shrewd NBA executive and businessman. Although he did not coin the phrase “THREE-PEAT”, and while he has not led a team to three consecutive NBA championships, he continues to profit by licensing the trademark. Certainly, interest in licensing the mark will peak each time a team gets close, in any sport, to accomplishing this remarkable feat.

Now, if only he can convince LeBron James to keep his talents in South Beach.

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