PLL and Youth Lacrosse Program Battle Over Trademarks and ‘Chaos’

Is “chaos” causing too much confusion in the lacrosse world?

That’s a key question in a new trademark infringement lawsuit brought by Chaos Lacrosse LLC (Chaos), a club lacrosse program for youth and high-school players, against Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), which includes a team named Chaos Lacrosse Club, or Chaos LC for short.

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Chaos filed its complaint in a Texas federal district court last Thursday. Also claiming unfair competition and unjust enrichment, Chaos seeks an injunction, monetary damages, disgorgement of PLL’s supposedly “ill-gained and unjust profits” and other remedies.

“The PLL does not believe this claim to be legitimate,” a PLL spokesperson said.

Based in Texas, Chaos incorporates a style of play associated with Roanoke College lacrosse coach Bill Pilat. Its name stands for “constantly harass and create opportunities to score.”

PLL is a pro lacrosse league, backed by prominent investors including Robert Kraft and Joe Tsai, with eight teams that tour across North America. Last year PLL landed a media rights deal with ESPN and may soon shift to geographically affiliated teams.

Chaos and PLL are not new to legal conflict over the word chaos; since last year, the two have litigated at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

According to its complaint, Chaos began using “Chaos Lacrosse” when promoting its coaching services about a decade ago. In 2018, Chaos filed applications for “Chaos Lacrosse” and accompanying logos with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and those registrations, for coaching services, were rewarded last year. Chaos also says it uses those marks on player uniforms, bags, apparel and lacrosse equipment.

Meanwhile, in 2019, PLL held its inaugural season and filed trademark applications for “Chaos,” “Chaos LC” and related logos. PLL sought trademark protection for clothing, athletic competitions, lacrosse games on TV and radio rendering live, lacrosse videos, lacrosse websites, lacrosse camps and clinics, ticketing services and related purposes. The USPTO registered those marks in 2020.

In 2022, Chaos petitioned the TTAB, which is the USPTO’s judicial body, to cancel PLL’s marks. Chaos claims consumers will likely “be confused or deceived into believing” that the goods and services provided by the companies “emanate from the same source.” Consumers might also be mistaken into assuming Chaos and PLL are somehow connected.

In court filings, PLL flatly disagrees, pointing out differences between the two companies’ business models and channels of trade. PLL also insists that Chaos opportunistically waited to take action, during which PLL built a devoted fan base. To top it off, Chaos LC won the 2021 PLL Championship.

Northeastern University law professor Alexandra Roberts, a trademark law expert, told Sportico that PLL’s arguments connect to its development as a pro league.

PLL, Roberts said, contends Chaos “knowingly sat on its rights for nearly three years, during which time PLL generated substantial goodwill in its marks, and the window has now closed for Chaos to assert rights against it.” She adds that PLL also argues Chaos “was not only aware” of PLL’s marks but, in PLL’s depiction of facts, went so far as approaching PLL about collaborating.

As the two sides battle at the USPTO, Roberts noted Chaos’ new federal complaint “adds examples of actual confusion to bolster its claim of infringement.”

To that end, PLL’s logos for Chaos LC are, allegedly, identical to those belonging to Chaos. The complaint also mentions that after Chaos registered teams to compete in the upcoming Austin Lacrosse Invitational tournament, a tournament staffer sent over an advertisement. Apparently confused, the staffer mistakenly used PLL’s mark/logo.

Roberts, who authored “Athlete Trademarks: Names, Nicknames, & Catchphrases” in the Oxford University Press’s Handbook of American Sports Law, explained that Chaos is accusing PLL of what is known as reverse confusion. The alleged infringer (PLL) “is bigger and better-known” than the first user of the mark (Chaos) and “consumers mistakenly believe that plaintiff’s goods or service come from the defendant, rather than the other way around.”

Chaos will likely need to offer more evidence of confusion to advance its claims, Roberts predicted. She mentioned Chaos “has so far offered only one specific instance of confusion and refers somewhat vaguely in the Complaint to others . . . whether it can produce concrete evidence of more than a handful of such instances of confusion may affect the outcome of its lawsuit.”

Roberts also forecasted defenses for PLL. “Given Chaos’ acknowledgment of PLL’s success in generating public awareness of PLL’s CHAOS marks, the argument that Chaos simply waited too long to enforce its marks against PLL seems like a strong one,” she said.

Attorneys for PLL will have an opportunity to answer the complaint and rebut the allegations.

Judge Amos Mazzant, III, is presiding over the case and will attempt to bring order to the . . . chaos.

Eben Novy-Williams contributed to this report.

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