Monday, October 5, 2009

Trademarking Boise State's Football Field?

The Boise State Broncos are taking the college football world by storm. Currently ranked 6th in the nation, the Broncos have an outside chance at contending for a national title. It seems, however, that Boise State will also be taking the legal world by storm, as the university is attempting to trademark its signature blue football field. Harboring hopes for both a national championship and a successful trademark registration, will Boise State be disappointed?

It will likely come as a surprise to many that Boise State is not the only college team with a blue field. The University of New Haven, which restarted its division II football program after a five year absence, also uses a blue turf. According to a New Haven Register article, Boise State has recently contacted University of New Haven officials to express concern over the similarity of the two fields. Rachel Bickerton, Boise State’s director of trademark enforcement and licensing, issued a statement to the Register summarizing the university’s position:
Since 1986, the blue field has been an iconic symbol for Boise State University and Boise. It is recognized near and far as the home of Broncos. We consider the blue turf to be part of our identity, and we place great value on that uniqueness.
Trademarking the color of a football field seems a bit silly, but is it legally practical? Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device or any combination therefrom, and, in fact, the Supreme Court has held that there is nothing preventing a color from meeting trademark requirements. Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prod. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 172-73 (1995). In Qualitex, the Court was presented with the issue of whether the green-gold color of a manufacturer’s dry cleaning press pads could be registered as a trademark. Id. at 161-62. It was explained that a color may receive trademark protection only upon a showing of a secondary meaning. Id. at 163-64. The Court reasoned that "over time, customers may come to treat a particular color on a product or its packaging . . . as signifying a brand. And, if so, that color would have come to identify and distinguish the goods--i.e. 'to 'indicate' their 'source'--much in the way that descriptive words on a product . . . can come to indicate a product's origin.'" Id. at 163.

I have no background in trademark law, and I invite our faithful readers, who are undoubtedly more knowledgeable than I on the subject, to comment. Has Boise State’s blue field acquired a secondary meaning? I would venture to say that it has because, in my opinion, the consuming public associates a blue turf with Boise State football.

In summary, then, Boise State may be satisfied with the outcome of its trademark registration. On the other hand, a national championship is likely out of the picture due to a weak strength of schedule. But rejoice Boise State fans! The mere prospect for a possible BCS bid and a successful trademark registration isn’t so bad, is it?


  1. weak schedule? boise beat oregon

  2. First, let's keep in mind that this is a legal blog, and not a sports blog. Nevertheless, your comment deserves a reply. Although Oregon is a very good team, it is the only team from a BCS conference that Boise State will play. The rest of their schedule would be a cake walk for any decent bcs school. An undefeated Boise State will not make the bcs championship over a 1 loss Florida, Texas, Alabama, etc.

    Anyways, let's talk trademark. I honestly know nothing on the subject, other than the basic research I did. I'd love to hear from our readers on that subject. I'm sure we have some experts out there.

  3. I'm no expert, but I think the fact there's another team with the same field is determinative of the issue. Can't be a trademark on that basis, right?

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