Angels in the Outfield and in the Bloodmobile

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.

Most people likely know that the Los Angeles Angels are a baseball team. But did you know they are also a blood bank? Me neither! But according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it appears that the Angels are, or at least claim to be.

At issue are two pending applications to register the marks ANGELS FOR LIFE and PLATELET DONORS ARE ANGELS FOR LIFE, both for use in connection with “promoting the donation of blood by means of arranging and conducting incentive reward programs” in Class 35 and “blood donation services, namely, blood bank services” in Class 44.

The Angels have opposed both applications, relying on a number of registrations for printed materials, bags, clothing, and entertainment services. Interestingly, the Angels also claimed prior common law rights in connection with “blood donation services” and “promoting the donation of blood.” It turns out that the Angels have allowed local hospitals and related medical entities to conduct blood drives at the stadium, along with offering prizes for donating blood.

The issue brings up an interesting question of what level of use is required in order to develop common law rights. Is the fact that it occurs at the Angels stadium sufficient? Does the fact that UC Irvine Healthcare ran the clinic mean that the public would have associated the blood donation services with UC Irvine Healthcare, rather than the Angels?

If this use is sufficient to establish rights in connection with blood donation services, what else can the Angels claim? Restaurant services are obvious, I mean, they do sell hot dogs. I’m sure there is a first aid kid somewhere, too, so medical clinic services sound alright. Transportation services, check. Security services? Sure. Do ATMs and providing change at registers count as banking or financial services? Sure, why not.

All of this begs the question, why do the Angels care?  If the applicant had also applied for use of the ANGELS FOR LIFE mark in connection with clothing, I’d understand. There could be some potential for confusion as to endorsement or affiliation with that use.

Given that the Angels are going after blood donation services, one would expect that they have an even more aggressive approach to marks that are registered for goods that coincide with their federal registrations, like clothing. However a quick search of the register reveals a number of live marks incorporating the term ANGELS in connection with clothing, including US ANGELS & Design, ANGELS ARE EVERYWHERE, ANGELO ANGELS, ANGELS AT WORK, ANGELS SO SWEET, TREY’S ANGELS, SUNANGELS & Design, and many more.

I’m not sure how the Angels can ignore all of these other marks that are arguably more similar in commercial impression for use in connection with more related goods. Perhaps the club has determined that the term ANGELS is diluted for clothing but wants to prevent this from occurring with other goods or services. Yet if such minor variations are sufficient to avoid a likelihood of confusion for identical goods, how can similar variations not be sufficient for promoting blood donation services? Especially for the PLATELET DONORS ARE ANGELS FOR LIFE mark.

Most attorneys would agree that an enforcement program is key to protecting a client’s marks. However it isn’t sufficient to merely send out demand letters once a month or oppose an application occasionally. In order to be truly effective, an enforcement program requires substantial planning. You need to be aware of the extent of your client’s trademark rights and any limitations based on third-party uses. Once you have that knowledge, you can create an enforcement strategy to protect your client’s current rights, identify the buffer zone that you need to defend to prevent your client’s rights from shrinking, and also identify potential areas of expansion based on your client’s business plans. If a particular area (identical marks or closely related goods/services) isn’t worth defending consistently, it isn’t worth defending at all. And even big businesses don’t like to waste money. That’s money that the Angels could be spending on trying to buy a world series the services of a highly sought-after free agent!

For the sake of full disclosure, I guess I should admit that I still haven’t gotten over the Angels defeating the Twins in the 2002 American League Championship Series. I wasn’t particularly happy when they signed Torii Hunter, either. I guess it’s just an old fashioned blood feud…

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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