On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, the Cleveland Roller Derby filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company, LLC, formerly known as the Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, for its intent to transform the Cleveland Guardians baseball team. According to the Cleveland Roller Derby’s complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, there can not be two Cleveland Guardian teams in Cleveland, and that was the first. As a result, it asks for an injunction preventing the baseball team from using the trademark. According to the Cleveland Roller Derby, a non-profit entity, the baseball team, despite being valued at over $ 1 billion, is trying to bulldoze the roller derby team’s superior trademark rights to the Guardians name.
The complaint indicates that the two teams were in contact before the baseball team announced rebranding in July 2021. According to the complaint, the baseball team contacted lawyers and informed the roles of the derby team that they were considering changing names like the Cleveland Guardians, and asked the derby team to send over pictures of the jerseys and other use of the IP. The baseball team should have indicated that it would assess the information when it was received and discuss whether they had any interest in acquiring the roles of the derby team’s intellectual property rights. So obviously the Cleveland Indians knew about the roller derby team’s ownership of IP and exactly how it was used. It’s an interesting fact to say the least.
The complaint also alleges that the roller derby team was concerned about the baseball team’s intention to use the IP and contacted to inform the baseball team that if it intended to use the Guardians trademark, it would have to acquire roller- derby team rights. To that end, the roller derby team offered to sell their IP, including the domain www.clevelandguardians.com. According to the Cleveland Roller Derby, the baseball team responded the same day and offered a nominal amount not exceeding 15 minutes of the team’s annual revenue. The Roller derby team of course rejected the offer and gave their own counter-offer. To date, the baseball team has not responded to the counter-offer.
Instead, on July 23, 2021, after the teams had the discussions referred to above, the Cleveland baseball team announced its intention to re-profile for the 2022 season as the Cleveland Guardians. This was announced without having purchased IP from the roller derby team and without securing any kind of coexistence agreement or license. This news was not well received by the Cleveland Roller Derby, and it appears that the parties have not been able to resolve their differences since the announcement, which resulted in the federal lawsuit being filed on October 26, 2021.
This trial is interesting to say the least. I think both sides have reasonably strong arguments. For example, the baseball team has a reasonable argument that its use with respect to baseball will not cause consumer confusion with the roller derby team’s use of the name with respect to roller derby. On the other hand, the roller derby team has a reasonably strong argument that consumers may be confused in the market when buying clothes and other goods and services. It also has a reasonable argument that consumers may end up confused when they decide to visit one of the team’s websites or want to tag one of the teams on social media. In fact, the complaint refers to the fact that the roller derby team’s website has crashed due to an influx of users looking for information about the baseball team following the re-profiling announcement. Not only that, but the roles derby team has expressed a legitimate concern for social media tags related to the roles derby team drowning in references to the billion-dollar baseball business.
Although both sides have convincing arguments, I’m almost certain we do not want to see what a plaintiff thinks about the dispute. Instead, as with most of these situations, it is more likely that the case will be resolved, and probably for more than Cleveland baseball teams would have paid for prior litigation. I may be wrong, since I suspected that this case would be settled before I reached this point, but I’m pretty sure this dispute will be put to rest before the spring training of 2022. There’s simply too much money involved in the baseball team’s rebranding to to leave the dispute to chance.