By: Jim Dossey, MS, MBA, JD -
According to Texas A&M University lore, the phrase "12 th Man" was born out of a 1922 football game between A&M and the defending national champions Centre College. Running short on players, the A&M coach recruited E. King Gill from the stands to suit up for the game. Although Gill never got in to play, his willingness to support his team made him an A&M legend.
The United States issued a trademark to Texas A&M University for the phrase "12 th Man" in 1990. Trademarks are used to protect the inherent value of a brand. A trademark can be a sign, design, or expression that identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. As long as the trademark is continuously used by the trademark owner, it can theoretically last forever. For this reason, a well-known trademark is a very valuable asset for a business that must be defended.
Since obtaining the trademark, A&M officials have sent requests to stop usage of the phrase to the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, and Denver Broncos. The Bills, Bears, and Broncos responded by stating they would no longer use the phrase. The Seahawks, however, continued using "12 th Man" and A&M sued the Seahawks for trademark infringment in 2006. Ultimately, A&M agreed to license the phrase to the Seahawks for a fee of $100,000 plus $5,000 per year going forward. A&M's deal with the Seahawks was renegotiated in 2011 and the deal must be renewed again in 2016. Given Seattle's Super Bowl run this year, the licensing fees will most certainly go up.
Despite the legal battles over the use of the 12 th Man trademark, Seattle Seahawk fans don't seem to be limiting their use of the moniker. In January, a Seattle couple made the news with the name of their new baby daughter, Cydnee Leigh 12th Mann (yes, that is her actual legal name!)
A&M remains vigilant in its efforts to protect the "12 th Man" trademark. On January 28 th, a tiny microbrewery in Seattle received a letter from A&M attorneys informing the owner that the name of his latest batch of brew, "12 th Man Skittles IPA", infringed A&M's trademark. According to a Seattle radio station, the A&M athletic director confirmed that the University currently has mystery shoppers in Seattle looking for businesses infringing their trademark.
Dossey & Jones can help with your trademark needs!