Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol XXVIII

Tonight's Weird (but true) legal case involves the New York Giants and a sportswear manufacturer who wanted to exploit the Giants' relocation to New Jersey.

In National Football League Properties v. New Jersey Giants, 637 F.Supp. 507 (D.N.J. 1986) the court considered a matter in which the NFL and the New York Giants argued that the defendant had violated §43(a) of the Lanham Act (unfair competition) and had infringed their service mark by selling merchandise branded as "New Jersey Giants" clothing.

While the case itself is not a landmark legal decision, the fact pattern borders on hysterical. As described by the Judge:

Plaintiff, the New York Football Giants, Inc., owns and operates the New York Giants, a major league professional football team which plays all of its home games in New Jersey yet eschews a New Jersey identification as resolutely as a vampire eschews the cross. Defendant, the New Jersey Giants, Inc., which is decidedly not a major league professional football team, was created and exists solely to illegally exploit the confusion engendered by the unwillingness of the team to correlate its name with the place it calls home.
The Judge was rather blunt in his characterization of the defendants, noting that their principals:

[T]estified that one of the purposes for starting the business and incorporating the name, as they had previously incorporated the name “New Jersey Cosmos”, was to sell the corporate name to the Giants' football team; that the other purpose was to sell the merchandise to fans of the Giants' football team who would associate and “no doubt” did associate that merchandise with the team; that even though in its best year the company sold but $2263.85 of merchandise and operated out of a law office, a post office box, and the back seat of the car of one of the principals, $30,000 worth of stock in the company has now been sold to three additional individuals; that two cease and desist letters were ignored with defendant, through its principals, continuing to do business and continuing to solicit business by means of radio spots which were intended to refer to the New York Giants' team and by means of advertisements in the “Giants News Weekly”, a newsletter directed to Giants' fans.
With this kind of introduction, you get an idea where the Court was going with its decision. In finding that the defendants had violated the Lanham Act, the Court based its decision in part on a marketing survey performed by the plaintiffs which demonstrated a likelihood of consumer confusion as to the source of the defendants' products. In so doing, the court explained:

Defendant's use of its trade name and the solicitation and sale of “New Jersey GIANTS” merchandise is also likely to confuse the public into believing that the New York Football Giants has changed the team's name to the New Jersey Giants or does not object to being referred to by that name. Neither is true, of course, and while one may wonder why the New York Giants resist a new name and may wish, perhaps, that it were otherwise, the fact remains that the Giants have the right to retain the long-standing goodwill and reputation they have developed in the name “ New York Giants” and efforts in that regard will be undermined were defendant's conduct permitted to continue.
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