USC's Steve Sarkisian has become the latest college football coach looking to register his name as a trademark, joining the likes of Gus Malzahn, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney.
Sarkisian's California-based company called Sark Enterprises, Inc., received a notice of allowance on Aug. 5 for the trademark “Sark,” U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records show. The application, filed last November, says the trademark of Sarkisian's nickname would be used for clothing (shirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, pants, shorts, skirts, dresses, wristbands, socks, hats, shoes, headwear) and a website “featuring information of interest to entertainment and sports enthusiasts, including information related to college football, coaching sports, fan club services, photographs and videos.”
Sarkisian also has pending applications for “Coach Sark” and “Bark for Sark.” Presumably, Sarkisian will abandon the “Bark for Sark” application, which was filed Nov. 13, 2013, when Sarkisian was still coaching the Washington Huskies.
Sarkisian is hardly alone. In recent years, several college football coaches or their universities have sought trademarks for coaches' names or phrases associated with them. Increasingly, coaching contracts explicitly spell out how a school can or cannot use a coach's name, image or likeness (NIL). Some coaches assign all of their personal endorsement rights to their university in exchange for six- or seven-figure dollar amounts.
This trend comes amid a legal challenge over what rights college athletes have for use of their NILs. A federal judge ruled Aug. 8 that the NCAA violates antitrust law by prohibiting FBS football and Division I men's basketball players from being paid off their NILs. The judge will allow colleges to put licensing money into a trust fund for future use by players.
Through a USC spokesman, Sarkisian said he filed the trademark to protect his name. When Sarkisian coached at Washington, an individual in Kirkland, Wash., applied to trademark the term “Sark Tank.” Sarkisian had not consented and the Patent and Trademark Office rejected the application.
Some other current coaches who have sought trademarks:
- Gus Malzahn, Auburn
-- “Hurry Up No Huddle” for glassware and clothing. Malzahn's Arkansas-based company HUNH, LLC, applied for the trademark on Nov. 13, 2013. The Patent and Trademark Office responded Feb. 28, 2014, seeking clarification on the wording of the identification of the goods.
-- “Gus Bus” for T-shirts. Auburn applied for the trademark on April 18 with consent by Malzahn. The Patent and Trademark Office approved it for principal register on Aug. 16. Previously, IMG College -- which markets Auburn's athletic department -- opposed another company's application to trademark “Gus Bus” for apparel. IMG wrote that it stood to make “considerable revenue” from marks related to Malzahn, whose initial contract as Auburn's head coach assigned all of his personal endorsement rights to Auburn in exchange for $900,000 per year.
- Urban Meyer, Ohio State
-- “Urban Meyer” for clothing, namely, hats, caps, shirts and T-shirts. Ohio State reapplied for the trademark on July 7 with a three-page letter by Meyer assigning to the university the “limited” right to use his name, voice, image, likeness and all other publicity rights. Some items Ohio State can commercially use Meyer's name for include clothing, hats, T-shirts, ties, mugs, cups, bumper stickers, pennants, flags and dolls. Ohio State agreed Meyer may use the trademark for charitable endeavors and any opportunities that “do not conflict with Ohio State's business interests (e.g, a major sponsor).” Meyer must approve in advance all proposed uses of his persona or trademark.
-- “Urban Meyer Knows” for clothing, namely shirts and T-shirts. The trademark request, filed by Ohio State, was published for opposition Aug. 12.
- Dabo Swinney, Clemson
-- "Dabo Swinney” for clothing, namely shirts. Swinney registered the trademark for official use on Dec. 14, 2010. Swinney has a deal with Clemson to sell merchandise that bears his name, according to USA Today Sports.
-- “Dabo's All In Team” for clothing and charitable fundraising services. Swinney registered the trademark on Jan. 4, 2011.
-- “Dabo” for clothing. Swinney registered the trademark on Aug. 4, 2010.
- Bo Pelini, Nebraska
-- “Bo Pelini Foundation” for charitable foundation services to support medical research and disadvantaged children. Pelini's foundation registered the trademark on June 7, 2011.
-- “Football 101” for charitable foundation services to support cancer research, education and procedures for those in need. Pelini's foundation registered the trademark on Dec. 7, 2010.
-- “Bo-Lieve in a Cure” for charitable foundation services to support cancer research, education and procedures for those in need. Pelini's foundation abandoned this trademark attempt in 2012 when it failed to file a statement of use or an extension of time.
- Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
-- “BeamerBall” for clothing, caps and “personal coaching services in the field of football at the college level.” Beamer applied for registration of the trademark twice, in 1999 and 2002, and abandoned the efforts each time.
- Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
-- “Steve Spurrier” ... While Florida's coach, Spurrier applied for the trademark in 2000 for “promoting the goods and services of others through the issuance of product endorsements.” The trademark attempt was abandoned in 2002.
The Patent and Trademark Office won't trademark any part of a name unless that person provides written consent. Lack of permission has slowed others from getting trademarks connected to former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has applied for “Johnny Football” and “The House That Johnny Built.”
Fitch Estate Sales, a company owned by the family of Manziel's friend Nate Fitch, was the first to file for the phrase “The House That Johnny Built.” The phrase refers to the $450 million renovation of Texas A&M's Kyle Field. ESPN.com reported in April that an attorney for Fitch's mother said Fitch and Manziel planned to use the trademark together.
But on May 12, the Patent and Trademark Office refused Fitch's registration unless Manziel provides written consent, which hasn't happened yet, according to records. “Although Johnny Manziel is not connected with the goods and/or services provided by applicant under the applied-for-mark, Johnny Manziel is so famous that consumers would presume a connection,” the Patent and Trademark Office wrote.
In recent months, lack of consent resulted in the Patent and Trademark Office rejecting individuals who sought trademarks of “Famous Jameis” (the popular nickname of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston) and “Bortles & Jameis” (named after ex-UCF quarterback Blake Bortles and Winston).