San Diego - The Denver Broncos' elation over beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday night's wildcard playoff game may be short lived. Soon after the event aired on national television, trademark attorneys for Texas A&M University threw up a flag alleging trademark infringement.
During Sunday night's broadcast, a man parachuted into the stadium with a banner that read "12th Man," which flew throughout the rest of the game. Football rules allow for a maximum of 11 players per team on the field at any given time. The "12th Man" phrase is used to indicate the important role played by the fans and was used to rally the crowd.
However, it appears that the "12th Man" phrase is known to be synonymous with the Texas A&M football team and in fact, has been trademarked by the university. Texas A&M Vice President for marketing and communications, Jason Cook, explained, "We take the protection of our trademarks very seriously. They are part of our intellectual property at the institution." Cook went on to say that the university, based in College Station, will defend the trademark against any infringements.
The "12th Man" phrase garnered attention with football fans after a 1922 incident, when E. King Gill, a former player, was called from the stands and suited up in the event he was needed to take the field for the injury-ridden Aggies. Thus, the famous phrase was born, and a statue honoring Gill stands outside the Aggies' Kyle Field.
This is not the first time Texas A&M has gone after an NFL team for using its trademarked phrase. In 2006, a "12th Man" trademark infringement dispute between the university and the Seattle Seahawks was settled through an agreement that would allow the Seahawks to license the trademark from the Aggies. Any time the Seahawks use the "12th Man" phrase at its televised games, the agreement requires the team to include a statement in its broadcasts that the trademark is owned by Texas A&M.
University officials stated that the licensing agreement with the Seattle Seahawks not only clearly established that it owns the trademark, but also made it even more necessary to monitor the unlicensed usage of the phrase by other NFL teams.
In reference to the university's aggressive defense of the trademark, Cook replied, "The 12th Man is extremely loyal. The 12th Man is standing ready to serve, and it's part of our DNA at Texas A&M."
Cook said that the university is hopeful that the infringement was an oversight by the Broncos and can be remedied by educating the team on trademark laws, however, he added, a cease and desist letter could be following close behind.