As those readers who are baseball fans (and especially Red Sox fans) will remember, in 2002 Larry Lucchino – one of the owners of the Red Sox – referred to the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” (no doubt in an homage to Star Wars and that lovable baseball fan Darth Vader!) when the Yankees beat out the Red Sox for the signing of pitcher Jose Contreras. Over the years, the Yankees (and especially the late George Steinbrenner) have embraced the Evil Empire moniker, going so far as to play Star Wars music during home games.
Here’s where the legal angle begins: in 2008, a private company named Evil Enterprises, Inc., which had no association with the Yankees, filed an application to obtain a federal registration for the trademark “Evil Empire.” By seeking to register the phrase Evil Empire as a trademark, the company tried to obtain the exclusive right to market baseball-related merchandise using the term “Evil Empire.”
Needless to say, the Yankees objected to the company’s application. For those readers not familiar with trademark law and procedure, trademark registration disputes like the one involving the Evil Empire mark are resolved by administrative litigation conducted by a federal administrative agency/court called the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB). The Yankees submitted substantial evidence (newspaper articles, media reports, etc.) showing that they are widely recognized throughout the baseball world by the term “Evil Empire.” The Yankees consequently argued that consumers would be confused into believing that the Yankees themselves were selling or sponsoring the merchandise branded with the Evil Empire name when it fact it was a private company not affiliated with the Yankees.
The TTAB agreed and earlier this month issued a decision rejecting the private company’s attempt to register the Evil Empire trademark. IN issuing this ruling, the TTAB stated: “”[t]he record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees . . . Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable trademark right in the term . . . as used in connection with baseball.”
Such a positive spin on the “Evil Empire” name probably was not what Larry Lucchino had in mind when he first used the term to refer to the Yankees. But he was a good sport about it. When asked to comment on the TTAB ruling, Mr. Lucchino said “I give them credit. Their embracing it is clever indeed.”
So now, the Yankees officially are the “Evil Empire,” at least for trademark purposes!