Federal Judge Rules New USFL Is Free To Use Logos And Trademarks

Written By Tyler Andrews on May 16, 2022
New USFL wins rights to logos trademarks

The USFL dodged its first legal bullet just in time for its season opener. Federal Judge, John Walter, sided with FOX USFL in a preliminary injunction brought against them by the “Real USFL” over the trademarks and logos used by FOX.

The “Real USFL” in this case represents the league formed in the early 80s that brought pro football to America during the spring and summer months. It lasted three years before it took the NFL to court, won, got paid $3 in damages, then disbanded.

The injunction they filed against FOX was over the branding FOX has used in their iteration of the USFL. The Real USFL claims the branding infringes on intellectual property. And, attempts to cash in on the nostalgia of the old league’s success.

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The old USFL snoozed and lost

Judge Walter ultimately sided with FOX on two grounds:

  • Timeliness
  • Lack of use by the Real USFL

The timeliness claim focused on the fact that FOX has made their plans for the new USFL known for the last few years. And the 1980s owners at no time contested those plans.

Further, by waiting for the very start of the season to levy their injunction, the old owners’ sudden interest in this upstart league called conspicuous attention to the overall lack of interest in preserving the original league’s legacy over the last forty years.

Walter ruled that FOX’s use of their trademarks and logos would cause no “irreparable harm” to the Real USFL. And, he again pointed to the old owners’ lack of interest in preserving their league’s legacy, stating:

“The Plaintiff asserts its ownership rights in abandoned marks that have been barely used for decades. Plaintiff does not seek to use the marks to promote its own football league that would compete with defendants’ new league, and plaintiff’s members’ activities in the past forty years to preserve the legacy of the old league are virtually nonexistent.”

This decision allows FOX to move forward unimpeded with their new league which plays all games in its 12-week season in Birmingham, AL.

Judge Walter was originally set to rule on the injunction on Monday, Apr. 18, the week following the new USFL’s opening weekend. However, he decided to announce the ruling the previous Thursday. This allowed the league to begin its season without the cloud of doubt hanging over the field.

FOX may advance but a caveat remains

However, Judge Walter’s initial endorsement of FOX’s plans came with a caveat. Walter stated in his decision that the original USFL owners had some credence in their injunction and that the old league “will likely prevail on its trademark infringement claim.”

The old USFL’s lawyer Nicholas T. Matich had this to say after the Judge’s ruling:

“We are very pleased at the court’s ruling on the merits that Fox ‘deliberately decided to launch their new league using the same names and teams as the old league in an apparent attempt to capitalize on the nostalgia for the old league.’ It is also satisfying to see the court reject what it called Fox’s ‘incredibly disingenuous argument.’

Although the court is letting Fox move ahead with its league, for now, Fox is doing so on a foundation it didn’t build. The court’s ruling shows that the rights of the people that built the original league will ultimately be vindicated.”

What Judge Walter’s caveat likely means for FOX is some sort of settlement. Where the old owners make a cut on the profits off the new league’s merchandising.

What it most likely doesn’t mean though is that FOX’s new league will have to change its appearance in any meaningful way. So, all those Houston Gambler fans out there can proudly wear their team gear in confidence.

Whether the ratings are there to keep the team and league afloat, well, that’s another story.

Photo by Butch Dill/Associated Press
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Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for PlayTexas, covering sports, sports law and gambling for the Lone Star State. He has also covered similar topics for a number of Catena Media's regional sites including NCSharp, PlayCA, PlayFL, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler is a Texas resident and currently specializes in covering gambling legislation and news in emerging US markets.

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