Commanders trademark application denied: Why Washington NFL franchise still doesn't own team nickname

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Nearly a year and a half after unveiling its new nickname, Washington's NFL franchise still does not own the Commanders trademark.

According to a report Wednesday by trademark attorney Josh Gerben, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) last week denied the team's request. Gerben reported the USPTO cited two reasons for its decision.

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The first is the annual college football game between Army and Air Force, dubbed the Commanders' Classic, which was inaugurated in 2021. The other is the existence of two pending trademark applications by Martin McCaulay, a D.C. fan who filed applications for Space Commanders and Wolf Commanders as he tried to guess the team's new nickname before Washington changed to Commanders.

Why doesn't Washington own the Commanders trademark?

Here is an in-depth breakdown from Gerben on the Commanders' failed application:

Gerben said that in the case of the Commanders' Classic, the franchise need only to argue that it is unlikely to be confused with the college football rivalry and thus won't infringe on the former's ability to profit off the name.

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Otherwise, it can attempt to buy out the rights to the name or sign a coexistence agreement. According to an August 2020 article by the BrownWinick Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa, such a contract differs from a simple consent form in that it offers more comprehensive protections and stipulations to keep parties from infringing on the other's trademark.

In this case, an agreement would only come about if ordered by a court or if the Commanders' Classic agreed to concurrent use of the Commanders trademark.

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As for the pending trademark applications, McCaulay stated through attorney Darren Heitner in 2020 (as reported by The Washington Post) that he has no intention of getting in the franchise's way.

With a little luck, the Washington franchise will own the trademark to its nickname — just a little later than it would have preferred.

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Zac Al-Khateeb is a content producer for The Sporting News.