The Cleveland Indians, a US Major League Baseball team, announced in July that it would be re-named to 'Cleveland Guardians'. The name change has been bought about due to years of criticism against the name and logo on the basis that they are racist.
Whilst the name change is a good thing, Cleveland Indians charged ahead without fully clearing the name - local roller derby team Cleveland Guardians have been using the name since 2013.
It would appear that Cleveland Indians were aware of the derby team given that wrote to them in June advising that they were considering the name change and later offering to purchase the rights in the name for a 'nominal amount'. However, this offer was rejected by the roller derby team and they have now filed a lawsuit in the US claiming trade mark infringement.
The lawsuit states that the roller derby team formally registered the name Cleveland Guardians in 2017 with the Ohio secretary of state and has been selling team merchandise since 2014. They also subsequently filed for a US Federal trade mark application in July 2021.
The Cleveland Indians have also filed for US Federal trade mark protection, claiming priority dating back to April and June 2021 due to earlier marks filed in Mauritius. In this regard, once an application is filed for the first time, it triggers a six month priority period in which any corresponding foreign applications filed within that six month period can claim back to the original filing date. A clever tactic for brands that do not wish to make their marks public before they are ready to do so.
Although Cleveland Indians claim that there is room for both teams to co-exist and use the name, one does wonder if they would have the same view point were this the other way around. It will certainly be interesting to see where this matter goes!
Cleveland Indians are not the only sports team to be undergoing a re-brand as the Washington Redskins (currently Washington Football Team), also faced the same criticism and have announced that they will chose a new name as of 2022. Let's hope they learn from Cleveland's error and fully clear the name before announcing, saving further embarrassment.
“A Major League club cannot simply take a smaller team’s name and use it for itself,” the lawsuit said. “There cannot be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams in Cleveland, and, to be blunt, Plaintiff was here first.”