Cleveland Indians Name Change Runs Into Owners of ‘Spiders’ and ‘Baseball Team’

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The New York Timesreport that the Cleveland Indians intend to change their logo and name—and possibly use a temporary name in 2021—raises the question of how the team can secure a new identity.

Two names that have surfaced as speculated possibilities might not be available. Both Cleveland Spiders and Cleveland Baseball Team are already the subject of trademark applications filed in July.

A person named Arlen Love from Washington applied for Cleveland Spiders, with the intended use for sports jerseys. The Cleveland Spiders were a National League major league team from 1889-1899, when they finished a record-worst 20-134 and were contracted.

Also in July—the same month Washington announced it would be dropping “Redskins” as its NFL team name—a person from Georgia named Andrew Steen applied for Cleveland Baseball Team, with the intended use for entertainment, sports and other services.

The filing of an application does not mean the applicant has obtained or will obtain the desired mark. Registration often takes longer than a year and involves a multi-step process led by a USPTO attorney. The attorney can raise a variety of objections, including whether registration would lead to confusion. Outside parties—objectors—can also assert claims against registration that can be resolved by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), an administrative court within the USPTO. Also, while some countries use a “first-to-file” approach to trademark registration, the U.S. generally uses a “first-to-use.” It’s unclear at this point how these factors will impact the registrations.

The Indians, of course, can negotiate to use another’s trademark through a license or similar arrangement. If the team wants to use a registered mark for a year it could try to gain that right by paying the holder.

The Indians’ lack of an immediate replacement drew the scrutiny of legal experts.

Alexandra Roberts, a trademark law expert at UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law and author of Athlete Trademarks: Names, Nicknames, & Catchphrases, tweets surprise at the lack of plan:

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