The NFL Bullied Someone Out Of Trademarking “Harbowl,” But Not Before He Tried To Extort The NFL

  • Dylan Murphy

Roger Goodell is an unapologetic bully. This we know, through his quest to solve the NFL’s concussion problem with words and more playoff games, and his post-lockout gloating.

NFL players are not the only ones subject to Goodell’s wrath, however. Last year, on the eve of the conference championships when the Harbowl was a thing-but-not-yet-a-thing, Roy Fox of Indiana had the idea to trademark the phrases “Harbowl” and “Harbaugh Bowl.” So he filed an application – which typically takes a year to process – but the NFL caught wind of his plan. And the NFL did not like his plan. Probably because the idea of a non-owner making money off the NFL in any way would likely drive Jim Irsay to smash his vintage guitar collection. So Roger Goodell’s NFL did what Roger Goodell’s NFL does best: bully Fox into submission.

The initial dance, however, was delicate: the NFL simply wanted to know if he had any team affiliation, or if he had any relation to the Harbaugh brothers. You know, because “Harbowl” is a little too similar to “Super Bowl” – which the NFL has trademarked, by the way – and confusion is bad for everyone. So it was all about confusion, really. For your own protection, Mr. Fox. Wouldn’t want you stepping on any legal toes now, son. Best that you drop the trademark application, don’t want our lawyers crawling up your butt.

But Mr. Fox wasn’t one to just run and hide at the first sign of trouble. He stands up to bullies – well, he calls their bluff and tries to extort them, at least. Because according to two lawyers ESPN interviewed for the story, the NFL’s case of similar likeness between “Super Bowl” and “Harbowl” – should it reach a courtroom – is pretty weak. So Fox went on the offensive (via ESPN):

“Fox said the league refused to provide him with any remedy. He first asked the league to reimburse him for his costs to file for the trademarks. He also asked for a couple of Colts season tickets and an autographed photo of league commissioner Roger Goodell.

He says the person within the league office he spoke to denied all his requests.”

Then things started to get chippy. Kick to the ribs chippy.

“After the language got increasingly more threatening, including one note that said the league would oppose his filing and seek to have him pay its legal bills, Fox eventually obliged.”

We wish Fox would have pursued his claim, if only to see him stick it to the NFL when he had a legal bat to swing, but we understand the trepidation in battling an army of NFL lawyers.

The worst part of all this is that the NFL hasn’t even filed any trademark applications itself, nor has it even decided whether or not to sell Harbaugh-related merchandise. In the meantime, we hope Fox goes ahead and makes that merchandise anyway – even if he’ll never profit off others doing the same.