In Canada, the Toronto Raptors’ successful drive for their first NBA Championship is all anyone can talk about. But behind the euphoria of the Championship lurks a dark cloud.
The Toronto Raptors have continually tried to enhance and refresh their branding, from the initial caricature of a basketball-playing dinosaur, to the brand that has been plastered everywhere during this 2019 playoff run.
The Toronto Raptors have registered their various logos and brands as registered trademarks.
Meanwhile, Monster Energy Company (“Monster Energy”), manufacturers of an energy drink, owns a family of trademarks that includes a stylized M utilizing a claw design.
Monster Energy has commenced a proceeding, known as a Trademark Opposition, to prevent the most recent versions of the Toronto Raptors’ logos from being registered as trademarks. Monster Energy argues that the Toronto Raptors’ marks are confusing with Monster Energy’s family of previously-registered trademarks featuring a claw design.
The Toronto Raptors and NBA Properties are arguing that their marks are not confusing with the Monster Energy marks, or, if they are confusing, that the earlier registration of the red basketball and claw design prevents Monster Energy from alleging confusion, as Monster Energy obtained registration of their marks despite the existence of the Toronto Raptors’ earlier logos.
It may be difficult to imagine how anyone seeing the latest Toronto Raptor’s logo on merchandise (the wordless design of a black basketball slashed through with claw marks) would show the type of confusion needed for a Trademark Opposition to succeed—in other words, that someone would believe that the merchandise bearing the current Toronto Raptors’ logo originated from, or was in some way associated, with Monster Energy. It will be interesting to see if Monster Energy is able to produce any evidence of actual confusion, or if they are relying on the similarity of the designs.
While the ending of the trademark Opposition is not yet known, it does demonstrate the need to carefully monitor the marketplace and applicable trademark databases to ensure that any tweaks or changes in your branding cannot be considered to impinge on someone else’s rights.