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The US Government Won’t Let the Washington Commanders Trademark Their Own Name

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Boardroom spoke with attorney Josh Gerben to get the rundown on why the US Patent and Trademark Office denied the team’s request — and why this story is still likely to have a happy ending.

As a consortium led by Josh Harris gets set to officially receive NFL approval after agreeing to purchase the Washington Commanders from Daniel and Tanya Snyder for more than $6 billion, the team’s application to get the team nickname trademark was officially denied last week, as attorney Josh Gerben of Gerben Intellectual Properry reported.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the denial on May 18 due to:

  • An already existing trademark for “Commanders’ Classic,” an annual college football game between Army and Air Force, and how its name could become confused with the NFL team
  • Pending applications for “Washington Space Commanders” and “Washington Wolf Commanders” previously filed by a private citizen named Martin McCaulay

McCaulay’s applications, as Gerben notes, were an attempt to guess the new team name after Snyder temporarily named the club Washington Football Team in 2020 before unveiling the Commanders nickname in February 2022.

Needless to say, McCaulay nailed it. Fortunately for the franchise and the rest of its fans, he previously stated he would turn over the existent trademarks to the team for free.

So, what will the Commanders do next on this front when Harris and Co. take over? Does any of this trademark intrigue impact whether the Commanders might ever consider another name change down the line?

“It is unlikely that the initial refusal of the trademark application impacts whether or not the new ownership group keeps the name,” Gerben told Boardroom. “From a legal standpoint, I think there is a high probability the Commanders could get around this refusal. It may take some time, but it appears that it should be possible.” 

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Gerben said Washington could file a response insisting that it’s unlikely that the Washington Commanders and the Commanders’ Classic are easily confusable. Otherwise, they could simply buy the name from the college football game’s organizing committee or enter a co-existence agreement. To date, Gerben said there haven’t been any other trademark filings made by the Commanders, which would otherwise fuel speculation that Washington is at least entertaining the idea of a new nickname under new ownership.

But for now, no smoke means no fire.

“Unless the new ownership group decides it wants a completely fresh start,” Gerben said, “I do not think this initial refusal of the trademark application is likely to affect whether or not the team keeps its name.”

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.