Tom Brady tried to patent the nickname “Tom Teriffic” last year. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the request.
It takes hubris to try to patent a nickname. But nowadays, especially in sports, names and nicknames are big business. If a profit can be made, then gosh darn it, a profit must be made! Or so goes the thinking.
So lawyers from Brady’s company – yes, he has his own company to market himself – applied for the patent. One of the reasons the request was turned down was because “Tom Teriffic” had been the nickname a generation earlier of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver.
So, conceivably, if Seaver or his friends were to sell a product emblazoned with the name “Tom Teriffic” – even if their intention was to raise money for charity or for Seaver’s medical care in his declining years – Tom Brady’s company could have sued for damages, with a good chance of succeeding if Brady held the patent.
Now, I am not saying Brady’s company would have sued. Just that it could have. If it had been granted the patent.
Nor does Seaver hold the patent. He never asked for such a patent. People from his generation wouldn’t do such a thing.
Nothing against Brady – to me, he is the third-greatest quarterback ever (I rate Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton higher because they called their own plays, while Brady’s generation has the plays radioed in from the sidelines) – but this whole business of patenting names repels me.
There is arrogance and egoism in requesting such a patent. It wrongly suggests that the stars of today are somehow more important than those of the past or the future.
When I was growing up, Pete Maravich, a popular basketball player, was nicknamed “Pistol Pete.” Though he reached the NBA Hall of Fame, he never sought a trademark for his nickname.
Before Maravich was even born, the “Pistol Pete” monicker belonged to Brooklyn Dodger center fielder Pete Reiser. He would have won the Rookie of the Year award in 1941, except the award didn’t exist yet. Reiser was the youngest player to win a National League batting title, is still tied for most times stealing home in one season (seven thefts), and though it’s not an official statistic – trust me on this – he holds the record for most times being carted off the field unconscious.
Reiser’s the reason ballparks padded the outfield walls. He collided into concrete too many times at full speed. My favorite baseball memory is seeing Reiser pinch-hit at an Old Timers’ Game in the 1970s. Back then all teams honored the players of the past with an annual Old Timers’ Game. Now only the Yankees do so. The near-disappearance of such games is a symptom of how today’s society focuses solely on the present.
Back to Brady. If Brady’s request had been granted, then Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger might secure a patent for his own nickname – “Big Ben.” Yet to past and future generations, “Big Ben” will be that little old clock in London.
“Rocket” is a good nickname. To me, it brings to mind Rod Laver, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. To others, it brings to mind Hall of Fame hockey player Maurice Richard. They both deserved the nickname. For either to have patented it would have been a disservice to the other.
The name game is not limited to the world of sports.
If your name is McDonald and you open a lunch counter and call it McDonald’s, then yes, if the Golden Arches company learns of this they will likely sue. Even if you are a McDonald running a lunch counter your great-grandparents started before the famous McDonald’s ever sold a burger, well, they will still sue.
In such cases, it often doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, but whether you can handle the legal expenses for a drawn-out battle.
To be fair to McDonald’s, they don’t demand money right away. They are content if you cease using that name in your business. Only if you decline to do so will they seek alleged damages.
When Apple Computer got started, there was another Apple on the map – the record label formed by the Beatles in 1968. The two Apples co-existed until Apple Computer expanded into the music business. Then legal warfare ensued.
It culminated with a trial, a verdict in 2006, then a settlement in 2007. Terms of the settlement remain sealed. But sources covering the event have written that to get the name Apple all to themselves, Apple Computer bought from the Beatles (and their estates) the rights to the Apple name.
For a mere $500 million.
What’s in a name?
Sometimes a lot.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.