Athletes Capitalize on Likeness

In the sports world, many athletes become famous for their skills. Those who perform the best and win the most games receive more notoriety. Fans become attached to these players and want to see them often. These players even draw new fans as they become more famous and continue to play well. However, athletes are generally not in a sport for a lifetime. Due to age, injury, and loss of skills over time, they eventually have to retire. Retirement generally comes earlier for athletes than for professionals from other careers. Therefore, it makes sense for athletes who have become famous for their catchphrases, names, and skills to seek trademarks so others do not capitalize on something they’ve earned themselves.

Some famous athlete trademarks include the following: Tim Tebow’s “Tebowing,” LeBron James’ “King James,” Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode,” Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong,” Jeremy Lin’s “Linsanity,” and many others. As noted, athletes can trademark catchphrases, names of particular poses, nicknames, and more. Some may use their name in original ways (e.g., Lance Armstrong for Livestrong charity that raises money for cancer). If the athletes don’t trademark these things themselves, then fans and companies may capitalize on them. There have many cases where a fan uses a catchphrase associated with an athlete and tries to sell t-shirts or other products with that catchphrase.

With trademarks, these athletes may be able to negotiate sponsorships, gain revenue, and/or raise awareness for something (such as Armstrong’s cancer charity). By trademarking their names, they can make their brand outlive their actual sports career. For instance, Michael Jordan is still keeping his brand strong years after he retired from basketball. In fact, he recently won a case for the rights to his Chinese name. Furthermore, by applying for trademarks, these athletes can prevent others from misusing their names or leading people to believe they endorse something that they don’t. They can also prevent others from generating revenue based on their likeness.

Athletes who move to trademark their names, likeness, and catchphrases early in the process have more control over the use of these trademarks. Some athletes even start the filing process while still in college. Although they cannot capitalize on those trademarks while still in college, they can prevent others from capitalizing on their likeness. Two such athletes include Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, both rookies for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Both athletes applied for trademarks while still in college, which has proven to be a smart move. Prescott and Elliott have both had an extremely successful first year in the pros, earning their way into the playoffs. As a result, their catchphrases and nicknames have been displayed and used abundantly by their fans. With such a successful start, they are likely to land more sponsorships and sell more products associated with their trademarks. Since they already applied for trademarks, they can prevent others from exploiting their names and already have a head start on negotiating deals for sponsorships and products. It’s an overall smart strategy. It gives them more recognition both on and off the field, and provides them protection as well as other revenue avenues down the road.

Infringement Poses Many Challenges

Intellectual properties are valuable assets for their owners. They protect inventions, brands, published works, and much more by giving owners the right to sue others who try to take, replicate, or sell the protected work. Therefore, it is often in the best interest of inventors, writers, company owners, and others to invest in intellectual property so their efforts are not wasted. After all, it could take years to write a masterpiece or invent the latest and greatest digital device. In the event willful infringement takes place, IP owners could receive a considerable amount in damages, depending on the type of IP. For instance, for willful infringement on patents, a patent owner could receive up to treble damages.

While IP helps protect an owner’s assets, the effects of infringement are considerable. The following list indicates the challenges IP infringement pose.

1. Proving infringement can be challenging. Many infringement cases are not obvious or easy to detect. It may require reverse-engineering an invention or access to confidential information to prove infringement. In other cases, such as clothing designs, it may be difficult to prove that someone created a design first. Someone else could have worked on the same idea at the same time. Further, it may be impossible to detect infringement if the IP doesn’t protect a tangible product or the product is not widely available to the market with use in the public eye. In some cases, detecting infringement may not be possible with a high degree of certainty, rendering any eventual litigation risky.

2. Infringement can create considerable revenue loss. When another party infringes on IP, this party essentially takes away revenue that the IP owner could be generating. In some cases, IP owners can lose millions of dollars, e.g., pharmaceutical companies (brand name drugs), tech companies (smartphones), etc.

3. Infringement cases are costly.
They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions. The cost of an infringement suit can be a substantial factor in determining whether enforcing IP is economically wise and ultimately whether that IP has more than some nominal value.

4. IP validity may be questioned.
An IP owner faces risks when initiating litigation against a company. For instance, a patent owner may be at risk of possibly losing the rights to the patent if the USPTO or a court finds the patent is either invalid or unenforceable, which can occur for a number of reasons.

5. Infringement cases take time.
The process of litigation is never a quick one. It takes infringement detection, lawsuit initiation, Markman hearing, trial prep, trial, and appeals. Cases can take months and even years to come to a conclusion. In the meantime, an IP owner risks losing time in the market and more revenue.

Infringement poses many problems to an IP owner and even to the infringer in the end. However, it may likely be worth the time for an IP owner to assert his rights that could ultimately lead to more revenue, damage awards, a settlement, and stopping the infringement completely. However, IP owners must know what is involved in the event of infringement to evaluate whether filing a lawsuit is the best approach.

Carrie Fisher’s Brand Legacy

On December 27, 2016, Carrie Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, passed away from complications after suffering a heart attack. Fisher was among the original cast members in Star Wars, which debuted in 1977. Fisher starred in Star Wars episodes 4-6; however, the storyline for episodes 1-3 did not include Fisher’s character or other famous original cast members including most notably Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. However, in 2015, episode 7, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, brought back fans’ beloved characters, resulting in the highest-grossing Star Wars movie to date.

Although Fisher was best known for her role as Princess Leia, she also starred in numerous movies including The Blues Brothers, Scream 3, and When Harry Met Sally. In addition to her film career, she also appeared in a host of television shows including Laverne & Shirley, 30 Rock, Sex in the City, The Big Bang Theory, and others. But acting wasn’t her only talent. She proved to be a skilled writer, authoring nonfiction and fiction books, as well as screenplays.

Fisher’s talent as an author and writer kept her in the public eye. However, her publicity was also often riddled with turmoil in association with her addictions, depression, and bipolar disorder. Rather than hide or deny these issues, Fisher spoke frankly and publicly about them, becoming a devout mental health advocate. Although she may have suffered from mental health disorders, Fisher’s natural humor and wit helped her deal with them and show others they could too. In fact, Fisher’s family helped her get the last laugh, placing Fisher’s ashes in a Prozac pill-shaped urn.

At the time of her death, Fisher’s net worth was $25 million. As with the death of any celebrity, her value is likely to increase in the short term as fans demand memorabilia, her movies, and her books. In fact, just a few days after Fisher’s death, Star Wars merchandise sales associated with Carrie Fisher increased three times the amount from the week before. In addition, demand for her books skyrocketed, with the publisher anticipating ongoing demand by reprinting tens of thousands more of her books.

While celebrity value often fades after a death, Fisher’s estate may likely continue to maintain significant value for the foreseeable future, especially with the Star Wars hype. Episode 7, Star Wars: The Force Awakens reached record sales of over $2 billion in anticipation of showcasing the original Star Wars cast, in which Fisher played a significant role. This movie fueled the interest in long-time Star Wars fans from the late 70s, as well as younger crowds. It is likely that the release of episode 8 set for later this year will fare well as many fans will be willing to pay to see Fisher’s last performance. In the meantime, they will continue to buy merchandise as there is nothing like an original cast member for avid Star Wars fans. Even if Disney decides to exclude Fisher’s role in episode 9, the hype will still keep fans coming back to the original characters. Princess Leia will always be one of the main characters that fans associate with Star Wars, whether Fisher is in a film or not. Also, if Disney works out a deal with Fisher’s estate, memorabilia featuring Princess Leia will likely continue to create demand and value for years to come.