The Red Sox no longer seek to trademark the word “Boston” for entertainment services, clothing and other purposes.
In a statement shared with The Boston Herald on Friday, Red Sox owner John Henry appeared to blame Major League Baseball for its role in two applications, filed on March 17 to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The applications are attributed to only one applicant—and it’s not MLB, commissioner Rob Manfred or anyone at the league.
The applicant is, “Boston Red Sox Baseball Club Limited Partnership New England Sports Ventures, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company Limited Partnership Massachusetts Fenway Park 4 Jersey Street Boston Massachusetts 02215.”
The attorney of record is an intellectual property lawyer who practices at a law firm in New York City and who on the same day filed nearly identical trademark applications on behalf of the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros for “Seattle” and “Houston,” respectively.
“Major League Baseball,” Henry wrote, “initiated, oversaw, and directed a trademark application on behalf of three of its clubs, including the Boston Red Sox [and Mariners and Astros]. Major League Baseball—not the Boston Red Sox—initiated this filing. Today, at our request, MLB has agreed to withdraw the application. MLB’s intent was to protect these clubs’ use of their city name in connection with professional baseball services and apparel, not an attempt to own the city name or prevent others from using the city name.”
As analyzed by Sportico on Wednesday, the applications would face several legal hurdles under trademark law. One is that “Boston” does not provide a source indicator for the Red Sox; there are other pro, college and high school teams (as well as various sports businesses) that use “Boston.” Another hurdle is that other Boston teams and businesses would be inclined to oppose since the applications contemplate goods and services that go well beyond baseball and into more general sports, media and entertainment applications, such as live music and podcasts.
The USPTO has occasionally approved applications by businesses that seek to trademark a city name. However, the applications have concerned narrowly defined functions rather than entire industries. For instance, a couple of businesses have trademarked “Worcester ”—a city in Massachusetts where the Red Sox AAA affiliate plays—for the cleaning of chimneys and the storing of magnetic media tapes.
Although Henry says MLB was behind the “Boston” trademark applications, his business, Fenway Sports Group, unsuccessfully tried to trademark “Liverpool” a few years ago under UK intellectual property law. Fenway Sports Group owns Liverpool FC.