Forbes chimes in on the NFL’s heavy-handed IP campaign, and how much more this year has looked like flag football, or maybe “touch”:
Clearly, brand owners need to be proactive to protect their intellectual property rights, which are enormously valuable assets and can be threatened by piracy and unauthorized third-party uses. And clearly the NFL has taken this mandate to heart. But its aggressive tactics raise the question: When is a global brand owner overstepping the line of reasonable enforcement? The NFL found its tipping point when it applied to register “The Big Game” as a trademark. . . .
Not only did the NFL blink by withdrawing its applications, but the league apparently hasn’t attempted to prevent any current promotions from referring to “The Big Game” either. A current Radio Shack promotion encourages consumers to “make The Big Game even bigger” by purchasing high-definition TV accessories, and one of the national pizza chains asks viewers to participate in a text messaging contest “when the Big Game takes place in Phoenix on Sunday.”
Naturally there is a flip side to this coin. Advertisers still must be careful not to skate over the edge and force a brand manager’s legal hand. In 1999, a judge sided with the NFL in a dispute over Coors’ use of the phrase “the official beer of NFL players.” Coors’ use had been based on its partnership with National Football League Players Incorporated, the marketing arm of the NFL players’ union. Coors was ordered to remove the offending phrase from its advertising.
The lesson at the end of the day is that while protecting a brand from infringement and dilution is always mission-critical, you can go too far. The NFL has learned that, and so should other global brand executives.