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Commentary > SportsBiz
Cashing in on the curse
Boston fans rush to trademark terms using "curse," but riches may be as rare as Red Sox titles.
November 8, 2004: 8:00 AM EST
A weekly column by Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - There's the equivalent of a land rush going on among Red Sox fans eager to cash in on the curse that has long haunted their team.

Trademark applications have been flooding into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, from all manner of budding entrepreneurs hoping to license products celebrating the end of the Curse of the Bambino.

A quick search of the Patent Office's Web site reveals about two dozen curse-related trademark applications filed since the Red Sox fell just missed making the World Series in 2003. Eight of those were filed this October, when the Sox finally won the Series after an 86-year drought.

Some of the phrases are more appropriate for a ballpark chant than a family Web site. (One PG-13 rated version comes from Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy, who last year filed for shirts and caps reading "Curse This!") And the preliminary search probably didn't find all the trademarks celebrating the end of the curse.

Most of those hoping to strike it rich with such slogans as "Curse Reversed!" or "esrever eht esruc" (reverse the curse spelled backwards) should beware. The riches they seek are probably as elusive as a championship was before this year.

"The reality in a situation like this, in terms of this phrase, it's probably a pretty short lived merchandising opportunity, but registering a trademark can take 12 to 18 months," said Pam Deese, a Washington attorney specializing in trademark law.

Rules and regulations

The person who comes up with a clever slogan or artwork can use it as soon as he wants, immediately after filing or even before filing for trademark protection.

But filing for a trademark doesn't necessarily offer any protection against suits and claims from others filing for the same trademark, Deese said. Filing first for a trademark doesn't even necessarily give someone priority to use it in the eyes of trademark law.

The experience of Bruce Fine, a lifelong Red Sox fan from Boston, now a comedian and comedy writer living in Los Angeles, is instructive.

When the Red Sox started making moves to improve the team last off-season, he came up with the idea of a shirt that read, "From Cursed to First."

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On December 14, 2003, he filed for a trademark for his phrase, and soon after that started selling shirts from a Web site. But five days after his filing, someone else filed for a trademark for the similar phrase, "Cursed to First."

That challenger never caused Fine any problems, but trying to find channels to sell the shirt was a problem.

"You can't get product into chain stores -- they only do MLB licensed stuff. The Red Sox and MLB have to approve it," he said. "The problem with this is you order your first batch, you sell out, then you order a bunch more, and you're not profitable at the end."

Fine was lucky, he was able to reach an agreement with MLB licensed apparel makers, Majestic Athletic Wear to make "From Cursed to First" shirts. The deal was negotiated with Majestic during the playoffs, Fine said, but it wasn't final until the Sox won their long-sought championship.

If he hadn't filed for the trademark protection almost a year earlier, Fine said, it's unlikely he could have struck a deal with Majestic.

Having a licensed manufacturer behind him not only removed Fine's overhead expenses, he was able to get the shirts into chains such as Modell's, as well as allowing it to carry the Red Sox logo.

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Patents, Copyright and Trademarks

The shirt had to lose the voodoo doll Fine had put on it, though. Apparently, the MLB licensing office is sensitive about such things.

Fine will now get a royalty for each shirt that Majestic sells. But he doesn't have any illusions that "From Cursed to First" will sell in the Boston market well into next year.

"It'll never be again like it is now," he said. "For it to keep going, we'll have to look elsewhere."

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