MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

These are exciting times for the Washington Commanders – new owner on the way, Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator in place and, best of all, the previous owner will soon be … the previous owner. Did we mention the Washington Commanders will soon have a new owner?

We did, but will they even be the Washington Commanders for much longer? Yes, more than likely they will be, but truthfully, there doesn’t seem to be many of us out here who would mind too much if the team name went back to being the Washington Football Team or, even better, became the Washington Football Club (WFC).

I mean, Washington Commanders was great when I was a 7th- and 8th-grader at Washington Junior High School here in Cumberland, Maryland, when long before Carson Wentz even thought of being a Washington Football Commander, all of the kids in the 7th and 8th grades in the Fort Hill districts were Washington Junior High School Commanders (haven’t you heard? George Washington slept here).

It was fine, because, frankly, we didn’t care what we were. We were just wondering where in the hell we had been taken for the next two years.

But Commanders for an NFL team in the 21st century? Bleh!

Not only that, how do you make that fit in a headline? And unless you’ve done headlines, don’t scoff or harrumph. It’s a legit point.

Anyway, according to the Washington Times, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Washington Commanders a trademark for “Washington Commanders,” noting that the name is likely to be confused with an existing trademark and prior applications that were filed before the team tried to register the mark.

My initial inclination was to believe that it was likely our Social Studies teacher at Washington, Miss Blake, who had secured the existing trademark, because she really had a thing about George Washington (and for coloring maps). In the 1970s, we were under the impression that Miss Blake had actually known George Washington. But probably not.

Anyway, the trademark office notified the Commanders on Brooks Robinson’s birthday (May 18) that the team had up to three months to file a response to the initial decision. According to the Times, the office said the team’s trademark was refused because of “the likelihood of confusion” with the “Commanders’ Classic” — the name of a yearly college football game between Air Force and Army.

The office also noted the existing applications of “Washington Space Commanders” and “Washington Wolf Commanders,” which were filed in August 2021 by Martin McCaulay, a Virginia-based man who has registered a lot of trademark applications. The Commanders were informed they need to add a disclaimer for “Washington” since trademarks can’t solely claim geography.

Well, they do play their games in Maryland and train and headquarter in Virginia, but I digress …

According to a statement by the Commanders, “The trademark office’s recent non-final office action is an ordinary course step in the standard trademark registration process. We will respond to the Trademark Office’s office action and are confident that our registration will be issued.”

The statement said there is “no likelihood of confusion between our Commanders marks” and the Commanders’ Classic college game. Further, the statement read, “We do not believe that any trademark registrations that were obtained by squatters who attempted to capitalize on the Club’s name change should stand in the way of our registrations.”

The alleged squatter in this instance is McCaulay, who denies being a trademark squatter, saying he offers his trademarks to the NFL for free. Well, of course he does, as his attorney, Darren Heitner, told the Times his client would “gladly do whatever is in his power to clear a path for the Washington NFL team to rebrand itself.”

McCaulay started filing trademarks in 2014 in anticipation that Washington would one day have to change its old nickname that had increasingly come to be seen as racially insensitive.

Initially, Washington’s trademark application for “Washington Football Team” had been rejected because of an existing mark application from … McCaulay. However, the team has eventually been granted the mark.

Josh Gerben, a trade attorney unaffiliated with the Commanders, told the Washington Times the initial denial for Washington likely won’t be a problem for the franchise in the long term. He said the issues were “workable,” noting that the name of a college football game is different from a professional football team and that the team could challenge the “validity” of McCaulay’s applications.

In the short term, Gerben said the trademark office’s refusal could make it more challenging for the team to enforce its name and logo to those who attempt to profit from unofficial memorabilia (where this franchise has been before). But he said under U.S. laws, companies and individuals still have trademark rights for the use of a mark even without a federal registration.

Gerben added there will be “a lot of opportunities to get this resolved.”

So don’t get your hopes up, at least not about the “eh” team name. Washington Football Team or Washington Football Club is unlikely, and Washington Commanders is more likely to stay.

Which, of course, would make Miss Blake happy. Goodness knows, my maps never made her happy.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT