Wheelchair basketball team files suit over Ravens name Club claims violation of trademark rights

July 18, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore Ravens have bared their talons, preparing to go to battle over the right to retain their name.

The Baltimore Raven Wheelchair Basketball Club Inc., founded in 1970, filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday against the Baltimore Ravens football team and NFL Properties Inc. over the exclusive right to use the Ravens name.

The basketball Ravens are asking for unspecified damages for trademark infringement, as well as an injunction prohibiting the team from using the names "Baltimore Ravens" or "Ravens" in the Baltimore market.

Although the basketball Ravens never registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office -- which the football Ravens did in March -- they say they have a common law right to the name because they have used it for the past 25 years.

"They have used the names Baltimore Ravens and Ravens all the way since the beginning -- on T-shirts, uniforms, literature, programs -- which gives them the common law trademark in this market area," said Robert Mead, a spokesman for the wheelchair basketball club.

Mead said the wheelchair basketball club has had trouble raising money because potential donors believe it is affiliated with the deep-pocketed football team. A T-shirt company refused to print team shirts, saying the club needed a license agreement from NFL Properties to use the name Baltimore Ravens. And the suit alleges the basketball club has received daily phone calls intended for the NFL Ravens "with questions regarding how to purchase football tickets, prices of tickets, where they can buy shirts, hats, athletic bags, etc."

Legal experts say the basketball Ravens may have a case.

"In this country, while registration gives you better enforcement zTC rights and in some circumstances can give you broader rights. . . . simply by using something is where you get trademark rights," said Chuck Saber, a Washington, D.C., attorney specializing in intellectual property and trademark law.

"Since the Baltimore Ravens basketball team was the first to use it, they will be considered the senior user of the mark and it is the obligation of the junior user to avoid confusion," Saber said. "Whether [the basketball team] will win or not will depend on whether the judge will believe that using a similar mark for a different sport will cause confusion in the marketplace."

"Some lawyer dropped the ball here. The football team obviously should have done a trademark search before they spent a dime on the name," said John Shepard Wiley Jr., a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law who teaches trademark and copyright law.

"Every trademark lawyer knows that there are many more trademarks than are registered," Wiley said.

Spokesmen from the NFL and the Ravens football team said they tried to reach an agreement with the basketball club and thought they had resolved the dispute in May. Lawyers for both sides met on May 24 and hammered out an agreement, which was faxed to the basketball club on June 3, said Kevin Byrne, a spokesman for the football team.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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