Over the last few years, trading card manufacturers have increasingly turned to trademark filings to block their competitors from making similarly named products. It has been a successful strategy most recently exemplified by Topps blocking Panini from releasing Chromium cards that Topps alleged would have trespassed on its CHROME trademark.
Every year, trading card manufacturer filings grow more expansive. From Panini's attempt to monopolize the word LIMITED, to Topps trying (and failing) to secure the letter V, to the industry's run on metals (don't worry…uranium is still available!), any advantage that manufacturers can exploit, they try.
It begs the question, just how ridiculous can trading card manufacturers' filings get?
This year looks to be no different, as trading card startup TCI (short for Trading Cards Inc.) began 2014 with a bold exploit: it filed a trademark application on 2015.
Legal translation: If successful in its application, TCI would be the only card company that could make trading cards with the year 2015 on them.
When asked for a comment on the filing, the CEO of TCI remarked, "Not one trading card manufacturer has released a 2015 product. Sure, there are a lot of 2013s, 2012s, etc, and even a couple 2014s already. But no one has released a 2015 product. We saw that the market needed 2015 cards, and exploited that."
TCI will release 2015 trading card sets for baseball, football, basketball and hockey in Feb. 2014. When asked how it could prepare 2015 cards when it's only Jan. 2014, its CEO responded, "That's easy. Each set is filled with nothing but redemptions. As the 2015 rosters are released, we'll redeem the cards."
When asked if he believed it was unethical to sell trading cards that did not yet exist, he responded, "The other trading card manufacturers trail blazed the redemption concept years ago. We're just taking the next logical step of moving from just a few cards that don't exist to the entire set."
Contained within each TCI pack are 16 redemption cards, numbered from 1-350, of which 50 will be redeemed for autographs.
"Our redemption process is superior to other trading card manufacturers. They offer redemptions for specific players, and too often those players never sign. So those cards not only don't exist at the time of purchase, they will never exist. The trading card manufacturer then has to issue a replacement card of a different player, or worse, from another product, to the consumer. And no one wants that.
"Since our checklists won't be set until 2015, they'll always be fulfilled. If you pull a redemption for card 157, you'll always get card 157. No other manufacturer can make that claim!"
TCI also plans on vigorously pursuing legal action against any trading card manufacturer that releases 2015 products.
"This will ensure that only one company -- TCI -- will provide your 2015 cards. So, you better get them soon because there will be no others!"
When it was pointed out that the term 2015 is merely descriptive of the products, and therefore TCI is unlikely to obtain a registration, its CEO responded, "I'm confident the Trademark Office will see it our way. Heck, it gave Panini a LIMITED registration. I like our chances."
TCI also filed trademark applications for 2016, 2017 and 2018, and will also release its 2016, 2017 and 2018 products for each sport in February, 2014 as well.
In response to an inquiry about why TCI had not filed trademark applications for 2019 and beyond, a TCI spokesperson responded, "We planned on doing that, but another trading card manufacturer saw our first four filings, and poached 2019-2035. Then another saw those, and filed for 2036-2040. I think they're now up to the year 2083."
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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