WASHINGTON — It's been 15 months since Washington's NFL team unveiled its new moniker, the Commanders. In that time the team has dealt with Congressional hearings concerning workplace conditions, a looming sale, a player being shot during an armed robbery and recorded a mediocre 8-8-1 season. Now, the latest debacle facing the embattled franchise appears to be a trademark battle.
The Commanders recently had their new name trademark rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Part of the reason why is an Alexandria man named Martin McCaulay, who already applied for a similar trademark.
McCauley said it all started as a hobby back in 2013.
"I started selling merchandise for fictional football team names," McCaulay said.
McCaulay sold shirts on eBay with names like the Washington Red-tailed Hawks, the Washington Shapeshifting Wolves, and yes, the Commanders.
He said the Commanders shirt wasn't exactly flying off the shelves.
"Not that many people were interested in a shirt that said Commanders, maybe about 30," he said.
He says he thought of the shirts as a way that people could vote with their wallets for a new team name. Plus, it was a nice side gig. Over the years, he has sold hundreds of shirts, netting about $5,000.
Along the way, McCaulay also applied for trademarks, including for the Washington Space Commanders, and the Washington Wolf Commanders.
It's in part due to these pending applications, that Washington's NFL franchise had its trademark request denied. The USPTO also referenced an existing trademark issued for the Commanders' Classic, a college football game between Air Force and Army.
Trademark attorney Eric Perrott said the Commanders' Classic trademark is the bigger issue.
"Essentially the Patent and Trademark Office said, 'Well, this has the word Commander in it, it's for football, we can't allow both of these to coexist," Perrott explained.
So how does the NFL team resolve the problem?
"They will need to either argue that there is no likelihood of confusion the Commanders' Classic and the Washington Commanders, or they'll have to go to those organizations and seek their consent," Perrott said.
As for McCaulay, he says he does not plan to stand in the team's way. He wants no payment for himself, although he has requested that the team make a contribution to Native American scholarships.
A spokesperson for the Washington Commanders called this an ordinary step in the process, and that the team is confident they will resolve these issues and eventually get the trademark.