If Texas A&M can play actual defense as well as it can play trademark defense, Jimbo Fisher’s record 10-year, $75 million contract might yet work out.
Last week, Texas A&M won a trademark case against a soap business based in Washington state. The Washington Soap Company applied for a trademark on the term “12th Man Hands” for a “handmade loofah soap bar or puck,” which is more or less what it sounds like.
A&M, which calls its fans “the 12th Man” and refers to them as such in all kinds of marketing and merchandise, challenged the soap company’s claim and got the case before the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. You can read the case filing here, if you’re the kind of person who likes to get into the weeds on U.S. trademark policy.
A&M opposed the soap people’s trademark registration because of “likelihood of confusion” under the federal trademark act, and the panel agreed that people could get confused about what was what. That’s less ridiculous than it sounds, because of A&M’s trademark relationships and how these bars of soap interacted with one of them.
(The Aggies also claimed that the soap company would “dilute” their own association with the 12th Man, but the trademark board didn’t address that part of A&M’s opposition.
This case tied in A&M’s licensing of the 12th Man to the NFL’s Seahawks.
The Seahawks also call their fans the 12th Man (or, somewhat annoyingly if you’re a fan of literally any other team in the NFL, or if you are not Russell Wilson, “the 12s”).
A&M’s been calling its fans the 12th Man for generations, and the Aggies do own the trademark to the term. The Seahawks pay A&M nearly $30,000 per year to use the mark just in the Pacific Northwest. They can’t put it on merchandise, and $10,000 of their annual payouts to the university go toward helping A&M litigate 12th Man trademark cases.
“We are obviously pleased to have in place the new agreement with the Seattle Seahawks that serves to control and minimize any use of Texas A&M’s trademark ‘12th Man’ by any entity other than Texas A&M and its authorized licensees,” Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp said when the parties renewed their agreement in 2016. A&M was excited then that it got the Seahawks to agree not to reference “the 12th Man” on social media.
According to the trademark board, the soap company was trying to call to mind the Seahawks’ 12th Man thing when designing the soap. There’s even a football on the “12th Man Hands” soap bar, and the company acknowledged it was trying to reach Seahawks fans, which makes sense because it’s a Washington-based company:
But according to the board, the soap-makers didn’t clear their use of the 12th Man mark with A&M specifically. That appears to have hurt their case.
Congrats to Texas A&M on starting off the season with a decisive win.