On the eve of their inaugural season kickoff, the new USFL has secured a significant, but potentially temporary victory off the field. A federal court judge ruled to not block the league’s usage of logos and trademarks purchased from the previous regime.
U.S. Judge John Walter said that league could proceed with its use of trademarks and logos as they would not cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs, the “real-USFL.” He cited lack of use with their intellectual property in recent years leading up to the purchase of the trademarks by Fox. In his statement Walter wrote,
“Plaintiff asserts its ownership rights in abandoned marks that have been barely used for decades.” Plaintiff does not seek to use the marks to promote its own football league that would compete with defendants’ new league, and plaintiff’s members’ activities in the past forty years to preserve the legacy of the old league are virtually nonexistent.”-Judge John Walter
Judge Walter also cited the lack of expediency from the original owners to file a trademark infringement claim. A hearing on a preliminary injunction to block the usage of the trademarks was initially set for Monday, April 18. With Walter’s ruling on Thursday this will allow for the USFL to kickoff with no threat of having to rapidly change its branding and teams.
However, Judge Walter simultaneously opened the door for the owners of the 1980s USFL to pursue their copyright infringement claim. Furthermore, Judge Walter asserted that the old guard will, “likely prevail on its trademark infringement claim.” In a written statement provided by the old USFL’s lawyer Nicholas T. Matich,
“We are very pleased at the court’s ruling on the merits that Fox ‘deliberately decided to launch their new league using the same names and teams as the old league in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the nostalgia for the old league.’ It is also satisfying to see the court reject what it called Fox’s ‘incredibly disingenuous argument.’ Although the court is letting Fox move ahead with its league for now, Fox is doing so on a foundation it didn’t build. The court’s ruling shows that the rights of the people that built the original league will ultimately be vindicated.”– Nicholas T. Matich
Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal reported that this most likely will lead to some sort of settlement between Fox and the old ownership. What the final figure will end up being is unclear presently. This would not be the first instance of the original owners claiming a league settlement. They famously sued the NFL for millions in an antitrust lawsuit and won, but were only awarded $3.76 in their case.
For the time being Fox and the USFL can carry on with the latest attempt to revitalize Spring football at least for this year. What lies beyond the season in terms of legal litigation with the previous USFL owners remains to be seen.