By: Mark Malek
I have been receiving a multitude of questions lately about use of NFL logos. I do give these folks a lot of credit for asking an attorney before moving forward with their ideas of using NFL logos. Most of these folks are asking whether or not they can put NFL logos on certain things and sell them. For example, the types of things they are looking to manufacture range from t-shirts to crafts to be sold at local craft shows (like a birdhouse having a Jets logo).
The answer to their question is a resounding NO, and this answer is not unique to the NFL. In short, you cannot use the logos of the NFL on anything. That is, you cannot use the logos without the express permission of the NFL. The logos of the various teams of the NFL are trademarks that are owned by the NFL. As such, the only way to use the trademark of another without liability is with their permission. This permission will normally come in the form of a license.
A trademark is a source identifier. In other words, a trademark is a way that consumers can identify the source of goods and services. The example that I often provide to clients is McDonalds. If you are driving your car in Melbourne, Florida or in Seattle, Washington, and you see a sign for that big golden “M,” you know exactly what you are going to get if you get off that exit and pull into that restaurant. It will be the same tasting hamburger no matter which McDonalds you pull into.
As I will discuss in future articles, trademarks are meant to prevent confusion of the consumer. Trademark law prevents consumers from being confused as to the source of goods and services. In this particular case, the NFL is trying to prevent consumers from being confused as to whether or not they are purchasing a product that is licensed by the NFL. With such products, consumers generally expect a certain level of quality that might not be available from products that are not licensed by the NFL.
You can find more information on licensing NFL trademarks here and here. If you need some assistance navigating the NFL licensing process, feel free to contact me. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for even more information.