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The Return of the Los Angeles Chargers

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2016 | Legal Blog

When the Rams and the Raiders both left Los Angeles back in the 1990’s, no one thought it would be more than twenty years before an NFL franchise returned to the City of Angels. But, now that it appears the Rams are on their way back (after a so-so stint in St. Louis) and both the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers are vying to be the second or even third team to call Los Angeles home, there’s been an unexpected development that may portend that second return. The San Diego Chargers, having been gone the longest of all three teams, has filed an application for registration of the trademark “LOS ANGELES CHARGERS” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Yes, I said “gone the longest.” Originally, the Chargers were based in Los Angeles and the 1960 Los Angeles Chargers season was the team’s inaugural season. It was also the inaugural season of the American Football League. Under Head Coach Sid Gillman, the Chargers had one of their best ever seasons, beating the Dallas Texans in their opening game 21-20 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and eventually won the AFL Western Division title with a 10-4 record. In fact, the title was the only one the Chargers have ever won. However, like most Chargers dreams that have died on the playing field, the season ended with a 24-16 loss in the AFL Championship to the Houston Oilers. Following the season, the team relocated down the coast to San Diego where it’s been ever since.

Now that they may be returning to Los Angeles, one of the largest potential NFL markets in the country, the team, in the form of the Chargers Football Company, LLC, has filed for registration of the “LOS ANGLES CHARGERS” in six International Classes for, among other things, “football helmets…posters, calendars, trading cards, magazines relating to football…(and, of course) jerseys.” But just as this won’t be the first time the Chargers have been based in Los Angeles (assuming they eventually return), this also won’t be the first time they registered trademark for the team name in Los Angeles.

Back in August 1960, the team filed an application with Trademark Office for a stylized logo that was eventually registered in International Class 041 for “entertainment in the form of professional football games in various states and throughout the medium of television and radio.” [U.S.P.T.O. TM Reg. No. 0733575] Ironically, the registration was issued in June 1962, well after the team had relocated to San Diego and one wonders why they’ve maintained the active registration for the past 53 years. Under fundamental principles of U.S. trademark law, a trademark must be continuously used in commerce for it to remain enforceable even if an active registration has been issued and maintained. As best I can remember, the Chargers have played under the San Diego banner since 1961. But, then again, no other NFL team has used the “LOS ANGELES” trademark in all that time.

Why It Matters. The Chargers organization has filed an initial registration application under Section 1(B) of the Lanham Act (the federal law authorizing the registration of trademarks at the federal level) in what commonly is known as an “intent to use” registration. Section 1(B) registration applications allow an entity that in good faith intends to use a trademark within six months of the original filing date may effectively reserve its place in the registration line. Then, the registering entity must either begin using the trademark actively in commerce within that six month period and convert the registration to an active registration under Section 1(A) or, alternatively, file for an extension of the six month reservation period.

Ultimately, the Trademark Office allows up to five extensions for a total of three years from the date of the original filing. Of course, it is important to note that a Section 1(B) application must be submitted in good faith. Thus, the Chargers must have a good faith belief that they will begin using the “LOS ANGELS CHARGERS” trademark within the next three years. Otherwise, they risk losing priority and the possibility of securing the benefits of federal registration.