Evil Enterprises Inc. has been trying since 2008 to register its mark to produce spoof apparel with the slogan “baseballs Evil Empire” with the Yankees logo depicted with a devil and pitch fork. Baseball fans will recall that Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino calling the Yankees the “evil empire” after Jose Contreras was signed by the Yankees.
The New York Yankees franchise opposed registration of the mark “Evil Empire” claiming they implicitly embraced the unregistered mark. The Yankees are strongly associated with the phrase. The Yankees even play the Imperial March during home games.
The lesson to be learned from all this: a company need not create a name or slogan to protect it as a trademark. The key is the association by the public with a particular source. Other examples of public nicknames being protected as trademarks include “Coke” for Coca Cola and “Mickey-D’s” for McDonald’s.
Prudent companies will regularly check with internet and social media to learn of pop culture nicknames being used by the public in association with their product or service. Once identified, consider registering the mark to protect your market and branding. The cost is likely to be less than $2,000 to prevent misuse of nicknames associated with your brand. Some protection can be “priceless” because of the pop culture, social media and traditional media publicity you get.