O's face a curveball in Camden logo bid

August 16, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

If Roy G. Becker has guessed the pitch correctly, he may end up profiting from the name of the Orioles' new stadium.

Becker, of Arnold, has already printed and sold T-shirts with the name Camden Yards -- the moniker many people think will end up on the new ballpark being built downtown. More important, he was the first to apply for the trademark to sell clothing with that name when he filed July 1 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and paid his $175 application fee.

That will not prevent the Maryland Stadium Authority and Orioles Inc. from naming the new ballpark Camden Yards, but it may give the Orioles headaches if they put the name on T-shirts, hats or other clothing. Such concessions represent big money in sports.

"If he filed in July and has started using that trademark, I would assume they would have some trouble if they tried to use the trademark on clothing. . . . I think he's very clever," said Ruth Finch, a local attorney specializing in trademark and copyright law.

In the complicated world of trademark law, being first counts a lot. If Becker succeeds in winning the trademark, something that takes about a year, he could control the sales of clothing with that name. That could mean a cut of the profits, an exclusive franchise, or a cash settlement for Becker, Finch said.

A similar situation arose with the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, last year. A husband and wife pair of entrepreneurs beat the city in filing for the rights to the name. They eventually agreed to use the name for 13 months and then turn it over to the city. If no agreement had been reached, the city would have picked another name.

"It's something that could be an annoyance, but it's not a big issue. It's something that happens all the time," said Alison Asti, principal counsel for the stadium authority.

For one thing, Becker is not assured of winning his trademark, she said. Trademarks are not given for geographic locations -- something Camden Yards may prove to be -- and the name has been used informally by the stadium authority for years. "We've been using the name loosely for so long we may have a right by prior rights to the name," Asti said.

But Finch said she is not so sure. "This is the kind of case that I think will probably end up settling" out of court, she said.

Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority, said the matter would not affect the choice of a name.

Even if the authority could not prevent Becker from using the name Camden Yards, it could prevent him from using the name in association with the stadium or team, he said. In fact, Major League Baseball is already exploring Becker's use of an Oriole bird on his T-shirts, which may violate baseball trademarks.

Efforts to reach Becker today and yesterday were unsuccessful.

Sports teams are very protective of their trademarks. When Baltimore unsuccessfully sought to get the St. Louis Cardinals football team to move here a few years ago, a man printed up some Baltimore Cardinals shirts. The National Football League forced him to stop and stores had to remove the items from shelves, Belgrad said.

The authority could have protected Camden Yards with an "intent to use" filing at the trademark office, even if the name was not selected yet. But Belgrad said the authority did not and has no intention of doing so.

"If we went out and got a copyright for Camden Yards three or four months ago, every newspaper would have gone out and interpreted that as the name of the stadium," he said.

The other contenders in the name sweepstakes, Oriole Park and Babe Ruth Stadium, are already protected by other trademarks, he said.

The Camden name has won favor in Baltimore because the stadium is adjacent to the shuttered Camden Yards railroad station, a once-grand symbol of the city's role as the birthplace of American railroading. The name is derived from Camden Street, which runs in front of the station, once known as the Camden Street Station.

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