Speros recovers trademark fumble for Colts name

February 01, 1994|By John Steadman

What may be an important legal development in the controversy over the right to use the name Baltimore Colts has taken a surprising turn because of new information evolving from research.

The name will soon belong to Jim Speros as a result of filing official papers and paying a $25,000 fee to record and establish the necessary documentation. He insists he'll call the new Canadian Football League team he is working to establish by the name Baltimore Colts.

Speros says one of the leading patent trademark consultants in the country, the law firm of Spencer, Frank & Schneider, told him the NFL was remiss in filing for renewal of the license. So the name became a free agent, so to speak.

It was last Friday that Speros paid a $25,000 application charge. He says the Baltimore Colts' name will be his property, listed under registration number 943025 with the Patent & Trademark Division of the federal government.

Speros said his attorney, Bob Bodansky, referred him to George Spencer, a partner in the firm that carries his name and also a former commissioner of an association of lawyers involved in the business of filing patents and trademarks. What Spencer found in his effort was especially enlightening, according to Speros.

"The trademark expiration date ran out on Dec. 12, 1992," Speros said. "The last renewal was in 1972 and such a license is valid for 20 years. So, officially, we are moving on with the name Colts."

Why Speros even entered into research to see if there was any encumberment regarding ownership of the name didn't seem necessary, except to make himself feel comfortable and free of even a minor threat from being under NFL control.

The name Colts, historically, came into being in 1947 when Baltimore was in another league, the defunct All-America Football Conference. The result of a fan contest, it has been in the public domain ever since.

The NFL or NFL Properties had nothing to do with origination of the name Colts. It belonged to Baltimore, almost to the same extent as mention of Chesapeake Bay, white marble stoops and crab cakes.

No one in Baltimore profited from the name. It was established and there's no way, from the standpoint of precedence, the league could claim it as one of its inventions. To do so would be fraudulent. Records will support that Baltimore had the name long before the NFL moved into the city.

From all the ill will the NFL and commissioner Paul Tagliabue created over its treatment of Baltimore, it wouldn't be expected it would try to usurp a name it has not the remotest right to claim.

When Tagliabue was asked about the subject in Atlanta, following the Super Bowl, he said he "hadn't talked to Properties," the NFL's merchandising arm.

"We just went through it with the Panthers," he added, obviously alluding to the Charlotte Panthers' right to utilize the same name that is now used by a National Hockey League franchise, the Florida Panthers.

If the NFL can duplicate the name Panthers, why can't Baltimore, by the same reasoning, be entitled to once more using the name Colts in a new adventure, the CFL?

"Sure, Properties wants the name Colts," was part of the response from Tagliabue. He paused and then said, "I'll talk to you later about it."

Tagliabue was told Speros is the man heading the CFL project in Baltimore and that it was understood they know each other. "I met him once [and he held up one finger for emphasis]," he said.

"I am not a friend, but he has told people I am. I rode in a plane with him one time. He wasn't the best man at my wedding. He told people he was a friend of mine and that he had been promised a World Football League franchise."

Speros deserves to use the name Colts from the mere standpoint that it was conceived in Baltimore over four decades and it was the NFL that tried to purloin it for its own selfish commercial purposes -- even though, at the same time, it denied Baltimore a team.

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