The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
As I noted a few days ago, it's becoming increasingly easy to ridicule and parody intellectual property developments these days—and then along comes this story, which pushes the envelope of silliness so far out that I thought, at first, that it must be a spoof.
There were about a zillion stories flying around the Internet over the past few days about an apparent legal fight brewing between Snoop Dogg and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owner of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. Apparently, Snoop is going into the legalized pot business big time and recently filed a trademark application (pending) for the name "Leafs by Snoop" and the accompanying logo shown above [see his website at www.leafsbysnoop.com]. The Maple Leafs, according to the stories, were gearing up for some sort of a fight, on the grounds that Snoop's use would infringe their trademark.
I really did think it might all be a hoax, especially when I was unable to find anything concrete—a statement from one or the other side, for instance, or a court filing—to substantiate the story. And it does seem like just the sort of thing ("Stupid Legal Fights Among the Rich and Famous") that would get picked up by the Internet and accelerated to high velocity before anyone realized there was nothing there.
But we take you "beyond the headlines" here on the Volokh Conspiracy, so I did a little checking around, and here's what seems to be going on. Snoop did indeed file for a trademark for both the name and the logo back in November (under his given name, Calvin Broadus).
[The PTO's online trademark database—which is not terrible, though it won't win any prizes for user-friendliness—won't let me give you active links to any of the documents in the database, so if you're interested, you can find them by logging into the database, going to the "Word and/or Design Mark Search (Structured)," and searching for "Broadus" in the "Owner Name" field. The file numbers for the two filings are 86832118 and 86823571.]
As with any trademark filing, there's a 90-day period after the application is published in the official Trademark Gazette, during which time anyone can file a "notice of opposition," giving reasons the registration should be denied. There are any number of reasons trademark registrations should be denied (and which can form the basis for a notice of opposition), but far and away the most common reason companies oppose applications is on the grounds that the use of the phrase or logo or what-have-you by the applicant will infringe a trademark belonging to the party filing the opposition because it so closely resembles the opposer's trademark that consumers will be confused into thinking that the two parties' products or services are affiliated with one another.
Now, as far as I can tell, the Maple Leafs have not, in fact, filed an opposition; what they have done is filed a request (subsequently granted) for an extension of time to file an opposition, because "the potential opposer [i.e., the Maple Leafs] needs additional time to investigate the claim."
So it's not really much of a "fight" at all, yet. There's really no way to know what, if anything, the Maple Leafs have in mind (and they've not released any public statements about the matter), or even whether or not they will end up filing an opposition at all.
It is very, very difficult for me to imagine—even in a world of truly outlandish trademark claims—that they are seriously considering opposing Snoop's mark on the grounds that consumers would infer an affiliation between the bag of "Leafs by Snoop" pot and cigarette lighter they just purchased and the Toronto Maple Leafs. That sounds close to the most ridiculous trademark claim I can think of.
So ridiculous, in fact, that I would guess that they're not actually seriously considering it. I'd lay pretty long odds that they never do file an opposition here. My guess as to what happened is that the Maple Leafs' attorneys have some sort of system that kicks out all trademark applications that use the word "Leafs"** (as opposed to the grammatically correct "Leaves") for review, and automatically generate a request for an extension if they haven't gotten around to any one of them.
**There seem to be a surprising number of these; a quick search at the PTO shows over 500 existing trademarks using the word "Leafs."
That's all pure speculation on my part. But the alternative—that the Maple Leafs' lawyers might actually be thinking that they have an infringement claim here—is too horrible to contemplate.