Speros vows fight over Colts name

May 01, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Jim Speros vowed to take his escalating legal battle with the NFL to the "highest levels" of the justice system yesterday in order to preserve the name of choice for his Canadian Football League expansion team in Baltimore.

In a hastily arranged news conference at Memorial Stadium, the owner of the Baltimore CFL Colts decried what he called NFL arrogance, predicted the CFL soon would be moving into NFL cities, and suggested Robert Irsay had not left much goodwill behind when he abandoned Baltimore for Indianapolis 10 years ago.

So much for detente in the cold war over Speros' plans to revive the name Colts here.

"I think all this is going to do is build up a wall between us and the NFL," Speros said. "And I'm not really looking to do that, either. This is not my battle. They're bringing the battle to me, and I'm certainly not going to back down."

Full speed ahead. That was Speros' response to the latest twist in the tangled CFL name game.

On Friday, NFL Properties, the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts went to U.S. District Court in Indianapolis seeking injunctive relief and unspecified damages for alleged trademark infringement over use of the Colts' name. The suit names Speros, his team and the CFL as defendants.

The NFL also asked the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to dismiss a lawsuit filed March 1 by Speros asking for a declaratory judgment -- but no damages -- on the name.

In effect, the NFL is seeking to get a change in venue, and have the suit tried in Indianapolis rather than Baltimore.

Speros said the NFL had until May 10 to respond to his suit.

"I knew this day was going to come," the 35-year-old Potomac native said. "I thought they'd do it a week [after his filing] or two weeks later.

"They were quite surprised that I took the bull by the horns and moved forward with it. I think it threw them off guard. We're in a very good legal situation.

"The name belongs here. If I didn't believe that . . . I would never have pursued the name. And I would never have pursued the name if I didn't think we could keep it."

Speros said he has retained the Baltimore firm of Venable, Baetjer and Howard for the case, and that George Pappas was handling it. Pappas declined to comment until he had a chance to review the 100-page complaint. Speros left open the possibility that other Baltimore attorneys may join the legal fight in a volunteer effort.

Interestingly, Speros questioned the NFL's commitment to the lawsuit and speculated that Friday's suit was prompted by Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts.

"I don't see a problem with names," Speros said. "This gets down to merchandising. The Indianapolis Colts feel this will directly affect their merchandising with NFL Properties. We believe this is not the case at all.

"What bothers me is the fact the Indianapolis Colts have gotten involved now because I think that is something that just isn't right. The name Baltimore Colts has not been used for 10 years. We don't think there was a lot of goodwill left."

An NFL Colts spokesman on Friday said the team has been instructed by the league to defer any comment to the NFL.

"I do not believe the NFL is going to take this to the highest levels," Speros said. "If they do, we'll fight it to the highest level. . . . This is a typical situation where the NFL has shown their arrogance. They're muscling the smaller guy here.

"There was a quote that they respect our right to [have] a franchise in the United States. We never asked for their respect or asked them to move into the U.S. Our expansion program is going to move into many major cities. In the near future, we'll be in a number of NFL cities."

Speros said the CFL talked last week about putting franchises in Boston and Chicago.

He also said it was possible he would drop the "CFL" part of his name should the league change its name to the North American League with further U.S. expansion.

Despite the fact NFL Properties allowed trademark rights to Baltimore Colts to lapse -- Speros registered for the name last January -- at least one lawyer says Speros faces tough odds in beating the infringement charge.

"Everything I've seen the last two months as a fan makes me happy," said Ned Himmelrich, a Baltimore attorney who is chairman of the Maryland Bar Association Intellectual Property Committee, which deals with trademarks.

"[But] everything I've seen the last two months as a trademark lawyer makes me cringe. Everything Speros and his people said the past two months shows more infringement and more trading on goodwill.

"As a consumer, I see them saying they're continuing the old Baltimore Colts tradition. They're bringing back the band, bringing back the team. They're bringing back the whole aura of Colts, and there is goodwill."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke noted yesterday that the NFL has not complained about the CFL's British Columbia Lions sharing a nickname with its own Detroit Lions.

"Since 1954, we've had two teams called the Lions," said Schmoke. "One in the CFL and one in the NFL. And nobody has ever mistaken British Columbia for Detroit. So I think this is absurd."

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