Intellectual property law begets insanity
From SeattlePi.nwsource.com, 15 June 2007

By TED MILLER

Our subject today will be great fun: Sports and intellectual property law.

If you're like me, you've long wondered why no prime-time show has been based on a law firm specializing in intellectual property law.

IPL is sexy. It's hip. It's about defending the interests of innocent and vulnerable multi-billion-dollar businesses against the rapacious schemes of sleazy thousandaires!

Just imagine this scene: A passionate, leggy young attorney steps out of her Lexus and resolutely hands the pernicious owner of "Bob's Wings and Brews" a cease-and-desist letter for his "Half-priced wings during The Big Game!" promotion. Then, with vibrating intensity, she exclaims:

"Hey, Bob, what about the children? What happens to them when you duplicitously allude to the Super Bowl (TM) on that banner hanging outside your so-called family restaurant? You're stealing food from the mouths of children, particularly children of NFL executives, who should get $10 million for official rights!"

Unsure of the concept? Well, the past few months have provided plenty of material for an entire season. Consider:

  • Attorneys for Major League Baseball are arguing this week that they should own financial control of baseball statistics and player names, so all fantasy baseball businesses should be required to pay license fees.

    According to an Associated Press story, MLB lawyers contend fantasy baseball turns players into "game pieces."

    You're one cold fish if that doesn't break your heart.

  • Last week, the NCAA booted a reporter from a super-regional baseball playoff in Louisville, Ky., for blogging about the game from the press box.

    The NCAA regards blogs as presenting "a live representation of the game," which means bloggers are basically stealing from the NCAA and woebegone broadcast partner ESPN.

    Apparently the NCAA felt it hadn't done anything buffoonish of late and wanted to remind people of its true nature: A self-interested commercial enterprise and not an umbrella organization representing primarily taxpayer supported public institutions.

  • The NFL, which employs eight trademark and copyright specialists, recently abandoned its efforts to trademark the phrase "The Big Game." To the NFL, using such nudge-nudge terms for the Super Bowl (TM) constitutes "ambush marketing," a sneaky way to refer to the "Tazón Grande" without using the actual words, which are expensive because the NFL owns them.

    Folks at Stanford and California pointed out that they've been calling their annual grudge match "The Big Game" since 1892. The NFL backed off when it realized attorneys representing Cal and Stanford were smarter than its attorneys, who managed only to get into the inferior East Coast Ivies.

  • Finally, Seahawks fans remember our friends down at Texas A&M, right? In 1990, Texas A&M slinked off and officially registered the term "12th man," which the school began using to describe its football fans in 1922.

    They wanted to own the term and make sure nobody else got to use it, even though it has been commonly employed by other teams through the years. Only problem was the Seahawks had been using it since 1984, so the legal maneuver was a wussy act by supposedly straight-talking Texans.

    The litigious Aggies opted to file suit, but a quick settlement was reached that didn't really change anything. The 12th-man flag remained where it belongs at Qwest Field. Texas A&M probably realized that Seattle lawyers backed by Paul Allen are a lot smarter than College Station lawyers in 10-gallon hats.

    Of course, frivolous litigation is as American as obesity. It's part of who we are. And who doesn't giggle when a story appears about a guy like Paul Shimkonis, who in 1996 sued a strip club after he claimed he suffered whiplash during a lap dance due to a stripper's large breasts.

    But how could baseball make a legal claim to publicly available statistics that serve only to give fans pleasure and bring them closer to the game? It's not a question of whether MLB can win in court; it's whether it is abusing the public trust.

    The NFL wants to own the term "the Big Game"? Sorry, guys, you've already got "Super Bowl" and "Super Sunday;" the dictionary of superlatives is now shut for you.

    A blogger is competing with a live telecast? That's just freaking stupid, particularly if the blogger isn't doing detailed play-by-play, as he wasn't in the incident at issue. College sports are public news events. The NCAA doesn't own an event's reporting and commentary. Blogging is a legitimate, 21st century way for news organizations -- and anyone else, for that matter -- to communicate with readers.

    As for Texas A&M, what if all major programs or franchises suddenly tried to copyright words, phrases and routines that are important parts of their traditions but also are fairly common throughout the sporting landscape? What if Washington wanted a fee every time another school did the wave? Or if USC laid claim to the term "Fight on," and then asked Penn State to ante up for "Fight on State."

    The notion isn't impossible. Just consider that longtime NBA coach Pat Riley trademarked the term "three-peat" and gets paid anytime it is used for commercial purposes.

    Maybe Riley would make a cameo on "IPL: Miami"?