MLS erred in not approaching supporters before filing Cascadia Cup trademark

Steve Dykes

It's still not entirely clear what MLS planned to do if they owned the Cascadia Cup trademark, but now they have a fight on their hands and it could get ugly.

A bit of a fight is brewing in the Pacific Northwest over who really owns the Cascadia Cup. MLS has applied for the trademark in Canada, while the three main supporters groups of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps have jointly filed for ownership in the United States. Sounder at Heart has a decent roundup of the situation here.

Assuming we take MLS at face value, their only intention was to keep the trademark out of the hands of parties unaffiliated with the league or its supporters. The supporters groups formed the Cascadia Cup Council, perhaps anticipating that MLS might try to claim ownership if they didn't first.

Hopefully this will be settled amicably, but this really could have been avoided if MLS had simply approached the supporters before filing their claim. I put the onus on MLS because they are the group with most of the money, the powerful lawyers and the only real business that is involved. That the supporters ever thought to create this group speaks volumes about their ability to organize and cooperate, but it's a shame that they are spending limited resources on a fight they shouldn't have to wage.

There should be little dispute as to who really owns the Cascadia Cup, after all. The trophy was created by the Emerald City Supporters, Timbers Army and the Southsiders back in 2004 when they were supporting USL teams. Those three groups paid for and own the physical trophy, decide the rules by which it will be won and have always claimed it as their own. Until last season, there was almost no effort made by MLS to promote it in anyway.

After seeing how much passion surrounds the cup, it appears MLS saw an opportunity. This year, they even launched something they are calling "Rivalry Week," which highlights a bunch of matches between regional rivals.

It's entirely possible that MLS merely wanted to make sure they could promote something like that without fear of legal challenge. It's also entirely possible that they intended to grant supporters unlimited use of the term. That may well have proven to e acceptable for all parties.

But MLS still hasn't said what, exactly, they intend to do with the trademark and that has caused some consternation. Were they thinking about selling sponsorship? Were they going to sell memorabilia? Were they going to share the proceeds with supporters? It should hardly come as a surprise that these supporters weren't willing to simply wait to find out.

With any luck, this will all be hashed out soon. MLS says they are planning to meet with supporters to discuss all the possible ramifications. But that was also before they found out about the Cascadia Cup Council's attempts to claim ownership of the trademark. Maybe MLS will happily get out of the way now that they know the Cascadia Cup will be in safe hands. Maybe the two groups will agree to work together by jointly promoting it and share any proceeds. Here's hoping it doesn't turn ugly.

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