That's what Roy Becker is doing in his fight with the Md. Stadium Authority to sell Camden Yards clothes

GO FOR IT

April 03, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Roy Becker has always had a knack for spotting opportunity.

Consider the time he decided to move in with a friend in Florida. He walked to a truck stop near his Arnold home where he found a trucker needing help with a repair. In return, the trucker took Mr. Becker, then 16, all the way to Jacksonville, Fla., paying for their meals the whole way.

"When something comes around and it looks good and sounds good, you go for it," said Mr. Becker, now 29.

Last fall he spotted an opportunity in the delay over naming the new baseball stadium downtown. While the team owner and governor debated, Mr. Becker went ahead and filed for the trademark on Camden Yards and began selling clothes imprinted with the name.

The state, which has since filed its own trademark application, is suing him, claiming it owns the name because it has been using it informally for years. The case could go to trial this summer and the outcome could determine who gets the profits from T-shirts, hats and other clothing bearing the Camden Yards name.

Mr. Becker intends to be outside the stadium on Opening Day, peddling his new line of Camden Yards clothing.

His entrepreneurialism and willingness to take on some of the state's most powerful figures captured the imagination of many fans. But the legal costs have also taxed his resources, forcing him to move in with relatives and struggle to keep up payments on his pickup truck.

But such struggles are nothing new for Mr. Becker, a stocky part-time tugboat crew member, bounty hunter and electrician.

"I don't like to be held down by a leash," he said during a recent interview. "I'm not comfortable with four walls. I got to be free."

He is the son of a retired Baltimore police officer and Westinghouse production worker. He grew up in Arnold but dropped out of high school at 16 for the trip to Florida. He worked there at various bars and fast-food restaurants and traveled around.

A few years later, he made it back to this area, getting together with some friends in a band based in Ellicott City. He helped set up the stage and sold T-shirts for the group.

The band lasted about a year, after which Mr. Becker moved to California, where he found work as a boat mover. He also dabbled in electrical contracting, eventually going to work for a builder in North Hollywood and studying electrical codes at a junior college.

From there he went to Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, where he performed electrical contracting and became disc jockey for a night club called Solomon's Landing.

"My life was a vacation back then," he said.

Five years after landing in California, he got back into his 1978 Chevrolet Malibu and drove to Ellicott City. He spent about a year as an electrician until an accident left him with a back injury. He got part-time work as a deckhand for a local tugboat company and as a bounty hunter for a local bail bondsmen, tracking down fugitives who skip bail.

Last May, Mr. Becker got an idea for another way to make money. Work had fallen off at the port and he was interested in finding something new. "Clothes seemed to be something to get into," he said.

He researched the business and decided he liked the sound of Camden Yards, his favorite choice for the then-unnamed new stadium. He also discovered that no one had applied for trade name protection for the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. He filed on July 1.

"I had no intention to interfere with the naming of the stadium. I just was pursuing a business opportunity," he said.

He also filed applications with the Maryland Department of Assessments & Taxation to register eight trademarks including Oriole Memorial Stadium II, Oriole Park and Babe Ruth Stadium. Such registrations do not carry the same weight as federal trademark rights, which can take up to a year to win and carry a $175 filing fee.

If Mr. Becker is successful, he could conceivably control the sale of T-shirts and other goods bearing the name of the stadium. The Maryland Stadium Authority filed suit in U.S. District Court here in September, contending that the state held the rights because it has used the name informally. The authority has also filed an application for the Camden Yards trademark.

The state has shown no intention of backing off, and has proceeded as though it owns the name. It even struck a deal with Major League Baseball to license products carrying the proper name of the stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

A similar situation arose with the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, last year. A husband-and-wife team beat the city in filing for the federal 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, according to a San Antonio official.

But Jerrold A. Thrope, an attorney representing the Maryland Stadium Authority in the case, said "This is not an Alamodome case."

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