Law of Cards: Topps Drops Trademark Application for the Letter V

Law of Cards: Topps Drops Trademark Application for the Letter V

As we approach a new year and the Law of Card’s three-year anniversary, I hope this column has provided valuable insight into the trading card industry for my readers. And I can think of at least one group of readers who has received tremendous value: Topps' legal department.

Legal translation: It’s amazing how a lone blogger is able to track and accurately predict the legal strategy of an industry-leading trading card manufacturer.

Good thing I’m not working for its competition.

It's happened quite a few times, but three stand out. The first was on June 1, 2012. Back then, Topps picked a fight with Panini over Panini's CHROMIUM trademark. At the time, Topps had a trademark registration for BOWMAN and a trademark registration for BOWMAN CHROME. It did not have one for just the word CHROME. This was, what we call in the legal industry, "a bad fact" for Topps, because its skirmish with Panini would have been a lot stronger if it had the word CHROME registered by itself.

Legal translation: It's a lot easier to block CHROMIUM with the word CHROME than with the phrase BOWMAN CHROME.

Given this, I made the obvious suggestion:

"Hey, Topps, file a trademark application for CHROME. What do you have to lose?"

Less than three weeks later, on June 20, it did just that. Less than a year later, the Trademark Office registered CHROME, which is quite a powerful registration to have.

Legal translation: No one will be tempted (like Panini was) to argue that Topps only controls BOWMAN CHROME or TOPPS CHROME. With this registration, Topps controls the word CHROME in the trading card world.

The second prediction that stands out was when Panini filed a trademark application for the word LIMITED. If Panini received a registration for the word LIMITED, it would, for all intents and purposes, control that word on trading cards. Given the breadth of a LIMITED trademark registration, I suggested that someone in the industry should oppose it.

Well, Leaf stepped up first, but two months after I wrote the article, Topps followed with its own opposition. That fight is still ongoing, but if (read: when) Topps wins, the entire industry can thank it for knocking out one of the broadest, blocking trademarks around today.

My most recent prediction was when Topps filed an overly-broad trademark application for the letter V.

Legal translation: It basically covered any type of "sports trading card" with any type of letter V.

In response I wrote, "So, Topps' chances of getting the broad V it wants isn't impossible, but it'll be very difficult," and then suggested a much less ambitious, but more realistic, plan, "But hey, if Topps wants a V, it could just file on the specific Valor V Topps uses now on its cards."

And whadaya know. Last week, Topps dropped its overly-broad V trademark (I was being generous when I said it'd be "very difficult" to get that registration. I should have said, it'd be impossible), and filed a brand new V trademark application for its V with a circle that appears on its Valor cards.

Again, accurate prediction.

Or maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. Maybe, I'm not predicting Topps' future actions. Instead, Topps might be reading Law of Cards for free legal advice.

Well Topps, while that might seem cool, it's against the first paragraph in the italicized disclaimer below which tells you (and the world) not to rely on my articles for legal advice.

Legal thought: So Topps, I guess if you are reading Law of Cards for legal advice, you're not following my legal advice which is you should not be reading my column for legal advice.

But, hey, if you are reading my column for legal advice (again, what you should not be doing), I think a Christmas card from you would be nice this year, especially since I’ve probably saved you guys thousands of dollars in hourly billable rates.

Regardless, don't worry Topps. I'll still keep making my predictions.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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