Cubs Bearing the Burden Against Would-be Trademark Violators Ahead of Postseason
Now that we have the slate that will produce the next Kings of October (or November if the World Series goes beyond Game 6, which is scheduled for Halloween), prognosticators will ponder such topics as the Cleveland Indians’ chances of shaking off last year’s seven-game defeat in the Fall Classic, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ preparedness to translate 104 regular season triumphs—tops in the bigs—into the franchise’s first championship since 1988 and the Chicago Cubs’ likelihood of repeating as the national pastime’s ultimate winners and creating a dynasty not seen since the 2000 campaign, when the New York Yankees captured their fourth crown in five years. While the Windy City representatives look to continue their winning ways, their overseers are bearing the brunt of outside attempts to profit from the team’s trademarks, notably the nondescript, but nonetheless cherished, “C” logo.
I have never held any allegiance to or disdain for the Cubs, but I had long longed for them to end the organization’s World Series title drought, which Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and their mates did last year, ending 108 years of misery. Now that they are back for playoff action, the Central Division champions, who open their National League Division Series matchup at the East-conquering Washington Nationals’ ubiquitous park on Friday, they are again the darlings of many fans of clutch performers but also potential cash cows for scammers. While the powers that be are going after any blatant operations that involve unapproved merchants hawking goods with the aforementioned capital letter, they are also striving to secure dominion over utterances such as “Fly the W” and “1908 is enough.”
They have spent nearly a year trying to thwart a California man’s desire to claim the two sayings and almost 11 months countering Illinois inhabitants’ interest in trademarking “Defend the W.” Those cases are among the 47 that the Cubs’ bigwigs have brought before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board over the last two seasons, a tally close to four times that of the second-place Yankees, a far more storied franchise with an astounding 27 World Series championships. Regardless of the number of times the reigning occupants have been the last bunch standing, they have every right to growl when they feel someone has trespassed upon their promotional territory.
“Our negotiations are usually not contentious,” Ethan Orlinksy, senior vice president of legal, business and club affairs for Major League Baseball, said of matchups that are nowhere near as juicy as, say, Bryant, last year’s National League Most Valuable Player, stepping to the dish against Nationals’ right-hander Max Scherzer, the senior circuit’s reigning Cy Young Award winner. “Typically, parties are just spelling out what they need to have in place so they know what they can do on a go-forward basis.”
While “Fly the W,” “Defend the W” and “1908 is enough” are important matters to consider, the “C” remains the issue that will never cause the Cubs to hibernate. Their most pressing present legal dilemma might be its most interesting, as it has fought since 2015 to block the Chicago Athletic Association from using the letter on apparel or hotel- and restaurant-related services. The generic nature of the “C” could theoretically keep the Cubs from making the defendant bear much blame, and a trip to the association’s website explains the destination’s connection to the club, noting that William Wrigley, who bought the Cubs in 1915 and whose surname lives on through the their Wrigley Field, adopted the site’s crest as its logo, “forever binding” the two. The association could certainly rehash the past, but the Cubs could continue to say people could confuse the two emblems, even though the annals say they became the beneficiaries of the letter 102 years ago.
Come November 1 at the latest, the Cubs will know their playoff fate. One wonders if the legal matters will end before they either repeat or succumb to the Nationals, another National League contender or a member of the American League’s quintet of qualifiers. Let’s play (hard) ball!