The upcoming NBA season is nearly underway, which means the star athletes once again have started releasing their annual trademark sneakers. With shoe contracts rivaling the players’ actual salary, brand name and design are more important than ever for players and shoe companies like Nike and Under Armour. LaVar Ball, not wanting to wait for his youngest son LaMelo gain professional status, decided to challenge his high school and the NCAA’s policy on endorsements, and unveiled The Big Baller Brand Melo Ball 1.
LaVar Ball, the self-titled best basketball player of all time, who claims he could beat Michael Jordan one-handed, already had a target on his back, but this shoe created a brand new enemy before even being released. Hana Engel, the owner of Modern Body, a Canadian yoga studio located in Ottawa, claims that her logo “MB” was stolen by The Big Baller Brand. “I don’t want it to be, ‘oh she’s a little yoga studio in Ottawa Canada, who cares we can get away with this’, it’s my logo and I protected it for a reason,” Engel says, per her attorney. Engel started the process for protecting her logo and brand back in 2014 and obtained a full license in Canada this year. She is still waiting approval in the United States.
To register a trademark in the United States, the mark must either be currently in use or intended to be used in commerce. To make a trademark infringement claim, one must prove that it owns a valid mark, that it has priority, and that the defendant’s mark is likely to cause confusion in the minds of consumers about the source or sponsorship of the goods. After searching the USPTO trademark database and the Internet it does not seem Engel has registered a trademark or has products or services used in commerce.
With no trademark protection is it possible for Engel to copyright her logo in the United States and file a claim for statutory damages? US copyright protection is available for logos that contain sufficient originality and expressive elements. Words and short phrases or mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring do not meet this standard. For example, the letter “C” Coach handbags use as a monogram was denied because the stylized letter “C” did not contain sufficient amount of original and creative authorship to be copyrightable. However, Louis Vuitton was able to copyright their multicolored monograms for their handbags because the “L” and “V” combined with flower symbols was found to be creative enough. Engel’s copyright leans closer to the Coach monogram and will likely be rejected by the Copyright Office.
Yet, this is not the first time that LaVar Ball’s brand has been accused of infringing on another trademark. From the brand to his other son’s shoe logo, The Big Baller Brand tends to find itself in the middle of IP issues. Stay tuned to Bold IP for any developments on this story. Given how LaVar Ball typically responds to stories, it should be quite interesting.
Author: Chris Mayle, Patent Attorney
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