Law of Cards:  Topps Tries Trademarking Letter of the Alphabet

Law of Cards: Topps Tries Trademarking Letter of the Alphabet

If you asked me last week, I would have said the most controversial trading card trademark filing was Panini's LIMITED. Just check out eBay. It's a common word sellers use to describe the cards they are selling. Also, manufacturers have printed the word (in different ways) on their cards for years (eg, Limited Edition, Limited Logos), or used them on their sell sheets to describe short prints and inserts. With Panini trying to abscond with this word, it could change the language of selling trading cards.

But last week, Topps filed a trademark application that's just as controversial. It filed a trademark application for the letter V.

There are only 26 letters of the alphabet to choose from, but soon there might only be 25 for card manufacturers other than Topps.

Can you imagine, wanting to buy a Leaf _aliant product? That's limited to fi_e? In _ery good condition? But still a great _alue?

OK, it won't be that bad, but you get the point. It might be funny, but I don't think very many card manufacturers are going to be laughing.

Topps V filing is to protect its newly released Valor brand. Or, at least that V-like symbol in the upper-left hand corner of its Valor cards.

2012 Topps Valor Football Base Card

Wait, that's a V? Huh. I initially thought it was an anorexic bird or that pin pilots give to six-year olds when they visit the cockpit.

And before you ask if Topps' filing only covers that stylized version of the alleged letter V, it does not. The details of the filing below show that it's for a "standard character mark."

Legal translation: "Standard character mark" means any font, any style, any color of the trademark is covered.

Word Mark V
Goods and Services IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: Sports trading cards. FIRST USE: 20130320. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20130320
Standard Characters Claimed
Mark Drawing Code (4) STANDARD CHARACTER MARK
Serial Number 85910998
Filing Date April 22, 2013
Current Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Owner (APPLICANT) The Topps Company, Inc. CORPORATION DELAWARE One Whitehall Street New York NEW YORK 10004
Attorney of Record Andrew Baum
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

There are two other points to note in this filing. First, the goods and services are limited to "sports trading cards." Guess Topps didn't want to bump into any of the television shows' V trading cards made by Fleer back in the 1980s.

1984 Fleer V Sticker

With what is clearly a V in the upper right-hand corner (Topps artists, take note), it might have posed some problems for Topps. But, since this is not a sports card (unless there is a new Olympic event timing people on now quickly they can tear their faces off), it might not pose much of a problem.

The second take away from the filing is more of a hurdle for Topps: the filing states the first use in commerce is 2013. That's a problem because Leaf's Valiant product (which is a sports trading card) already used the letter V as a trademark starting in 2011.

Leaf is no stranger to filing trademark oppositions (having already filed two this year against Panini's LIMITED and PRIZM applications). So, if the Trademark Office does happen to allow Topps' V application, I'd expect Leaf to challenge it.

Now, I'm not going to get preachy and question Topps' strategy in this filing. I'm a big proponent of gaining an intellectual property advantage over your competitors wherever you can. But, I do think Topps will face an uphill battle to get a V registration.

Which should be OK For Topps because it already has a VALOR application on file to protect its product.

So, what's the next controversial trademark filing? We've already had metals, then the commonly used term LIMITED, and now a letter. I guess numbers are next. Although V is the roman numeral for five, which makes Topps' filing even more genius.

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.

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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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