The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s rejection of a trademark application made a rare appearance in the news recently when a new company called Evil Enterprises, Inc. was denied registration for the mark “Baseballs Evil Empire” that it intended to use in connection with a new clothing line. The New York Yankees opposed the idea because the Yankees have come to be known as the “Evil Empire,” and registration by Evil Enterprises would falsely suggest a connection between the company and the Yankees. Any baseball fan knows that was an obvious decision; the term “Evil Empire” is clearly trying to capitalize on the Yankees connection to sell merchandise to fans.
The underrated aspect of this story is that the Yankees acquired common-law trademark rights even though it did not coin the Evil Empire moniker. Most Red Sox fans will recall that it was club president Larry Lucchino who gave the Yankees the label. In 2002, the Red Sox and Yankees were battling to sign Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. When the Yankees won Contreras, Lucchino quipped, “The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America.” Since then, the Yankees have embraced the term, playing the Darth Vader theme at games, among other things. Although the Yankees have not sought to go beyond common law to formally register the trademark “Evil Empire,” their implicit adoption of the phrase allowed them to block Evil Enterprises’ registration and use. As the trademark office determined, “there is only one EVIL EMPIRE in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.”
This story highlights the age-old adage that there is no such thing as bad press. By capitalizing on a frustrated opponent’s off-the-cuff remarks, the Yankees have constructed a valuable identity. Keep this in mind the next time the competition disparages you. And be careful what you say: your competitors are listening and it may just be their next great branding solution.
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