Celebrity Trademark Watch: Did Tim Tebow “Trademark” his Signature Move?

by Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition
Contact

Within the past few days a number of news outlets, television programs, websites, and blogs have been reporting that former Denver Bronco and current New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has received a federal trademark registration for his signature, mid-game prayer gesture in which he drops to one knee while placing a fist against his forehead.  This stance is known as “tebowing” and it quickly became an internet phenomenon, with legions posting pictures of themselves and others in similar repose online.  The trademark story has been reported by USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Times, to name just a few sources.   Some reports speculated that “trademarking” a gesture was setting a new, potentially dangerous precedent.  Could Mr. Tebow extract a licensing fee or sue for infringement if you dared to tebow without his permission?  What about our First Amendment rights and religious freedom?  Were Catholics now going to have to pay for the privilege of genuflecting at mass?

Needless to say, as a trademark attorney and author of the Celebrity Trademark Watch, I was a bit embarrassed to have been “scooped” on such a fascinating story.  Somehow I had managed to overlook that a famous figure had filed an application to register a non-traditional trademark in the form of a gesture.  I immediately went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to investigate.   While I am happy to report that I had not, in fact, missed out on the story from the start, I am nonetheless disappointed to reveal that the news is simply not true.  A company owned by Tim Tebow, it turns out, owns seven applications to register the mark TEBOWING in connection with various goods and services (e.g., hats, t-shirts, education services, and toys).  No registration has issued in relation to any of these applications and, more importantly, none of them claims the physical gesture itself.  They are all applications for word marks only.  Someone, it would seem, learned that a single application had been published for opposition by the PTO and, armed with a less than complete understanding of the situation and the contents of the application, incorrectly reported that Mr. Tebow had cornered the market on praying during football.  Then the story spread, apparently without much fact checking.

In any event, America can now rest easy, and sports fans can tebow to their heart’s content.  But this story nonetheless gives one pause to consider the landscape of non-traditional trademarks.  There are trademark registrations for sounds, textures, scents, and objects or images in motion, but can a human gesture be registered as a trademark, too?  It turns out that the answer is yes.  In fact, Deutsche Telekom (parent company of T-Mobile) owns a U.S. registration for a formation of the letter “T” consisting of a “person whose hands are in motion coming together to form the letter ‘T’” in connection with a variety of goods and services, including telecommunication services.  This may be unusual, but, ultimately, the important factor is whether the mark is used in commerce.  Deutsche Telekom’s gesture mark might, for example, be used to advertise its services in television spots.  If a mark, however traditional or non-traditional its form, is used in connection with the sale or goods of services, it is a candidate for registration.  Which is really the issue that was puzzling all along.  What could Tim Tebow possibly be selling when he drops to one knee?  Turns out, nothing at all, at least for now.

“The Thinker” photo by Erik Daniel Drost.

 

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.

© Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition
Contact
more
less

Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.