by Jason Butt
August 01, 02014
On Friday, Texas A&M issued a statement that the university and fan group Bills Fan Thunder have reached an agreement over a trademark claim.
Prior to becoming the Bills Fan Thunder, the group called itself 12th Man Thunder, with the purpose of doing whatever is possible to ensure the Bills stay in Buffalo. However, Texas A&M was not, ahem, a fan of this, due to the fact they've owned the 12th Man trademark since 1990.
The fan group no longer owns a domain or social media account referring to the 12th Man as part of the agreement.
“We appreciate the passion Bills Fan Thunder brings to their work to maintain an NFL franchise in Buffalo,” said Shane Hinckley, Interim VP of Marketing & Communications at Texas A&M University in a statement.
Sure, Texas A&M owns the trademark "12th Man." But even though there's a common thread in football, Texas A&M isn't a national enough brand (regardless of what the Aggies think) to be confused with those outside of the realm of college football. Given the standard of trademark law is the "likelihood of confusion," a case could be made that the group formally referred to as 12th Man Thunder would not be confused with anything associated with Texas A&M in the marketplace.
Therefore, the 12th Man Thunder at least had somewhat of a legal means to stand on. But you're talking about a grass-roots effort in Buffalo with little money against a powerful institution with unlimited resources and it just becomes more trouble than it's worth.
The Aggies did sue the Seattle Seahawks over the use of the 12th Man trademark in the mid-2000s, though the two sides settled out of court. As part of the agreement, the Seahawks acknowledged that Texas A&M owns the term. But the argument here could be made that the Seahawks would be profiting over the use of the 12th Man. Given the Bills actally have a longstanding history of the term 12th Man, and that the group formally referred to as the 12th Man Thunder weren't trying to profit in the marketplace the Aggies compete in, Texas A&M may have had a tougher time going after them in a courtroom.
But sometimes it's better to compromise and move on when you're dealing with a group that simultaneously has deep pockets and an inferiority complex, especially over something that's just a silly phrase at the end of the day. In this case, it's a school that will never be as popular as (former) archrival Texas.
As it is, the 12th Man, err, Bills Fan Thunder group is taking the high road.
"We’re really pleased with the way the university handled the dispute and we fully recognize Texas A&M is the owner of the ‘12th Man’ trademark," group co-founder Charles Sonntag said in a statement. "We’ve already started operations under Bills Fan Thunder and will continue our fight to keep the Bills franchise in Buffalo."
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