In the last several years, popular nicknames and phrases associated with star athletes have become the subject of numerous contested trademark applications and ownership disputes.
Most recently, in June 2012, top NBA draft pick Anthony Davis filed intent-to-use (ITU) trademark applications for "FEAR THE BROW" and "RAISE THE BROW." The athlete is known not only for his star prowess on the court but for his truly prominent "unibrow." Davis may have taken a lesson from other modern star athletes by getting out ahead of the issue and clarifying brand ownership early.
For example, Jeremy Lin's team of high-priced trademark lawyers have successfully fended off half a dozen applicants for "LINSANITY, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow's top-notch trademark lawyers battled squatters over rights to TEBOWING and Terrell Suggs has battled others for a phrase BALL SO HARD UNIVERSITY, which he has used to refer to his fictional alma mater. And we can't forget "THAT'S A CLOWN QUESTION, BRO" is now the subject of a trademark application by Bryce Harper, who used the quip to respond to a reporter's question.
While huge trademark-induced endorsement deals are now common, trademarking popular nicknames and catchy sports phrases is not new, either. Pat Riley obtained a trademark for the term “three-peat” in 1989, when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers. But all of the recent legal activity involving the trademarking of athletes' nicknames leads to the inevitable question: Would the iconic players of yesteryear been as aggressive in protecting their personal nicknames as brands?