Can My Company Say “Super Bowl” in Our Super Bowl Ad?

football-player-260556_1280-2By now, you’ve probably seen and heard countless promotions mentioning “The Big Game”…but maybe you’ve never considered why they don’t just come out and say the actual name of the game.  Well, the term Super Bowl is a registered trademark owned by NFL Properties LLC.  And with advertisers spending $5 million or more on 30-second commercial spots for the Super Bowl, it’s little wonder that the NFL is so protective of its trademarks and copyrights.  (And, even if the price tag for an ad isn’t quite as high, the same is true for other big events and recognizable brands, such as the World Series, the Oscars, March Madness and the Final Four, the Emmys, the Grammys, and the Olympics.)

You might remember hearing about the Indiana church that received a cease and desist letter from the NFL related to its plan to project the game on a big screen and charge admission for a Super Bowl party in 2007.  Although it may seem harsh to go after a church, the letter (which had as much to do with the church’s use of the Super Bowl mark as it did with the church’s plans to show the game on a big screen) resulted in that church — as well as other churches that got wind of the letter — to cancel their plans.

Trademark owners have a duty to police their marks in order to avoid losing rights in the marks.  In other words, mark owners are legally required to protect against unauthorized uses of their marks, or they risk diminishing the value of their brands, damaging their goodwill, and weakening their marks and the value attached to those marks.  It would be pretty hard to justify the sponsorship fees and ad rates that “official” sponsors and advertisers pay if any of these mark owners allowed anyone else to benefit without having to shell out for that privilege.

And although sportscasters and news providers can say “Super Bowl” to talk about the game (thanks to a trademark fair use exception for criticism and news reporting), unless you are an approved, official sponsor, you’ll need to get creative instead of using the “Super Bowl” mark (or hashtag, for all you ambush marketer wannabes) to promote your products, services, or sales.

So, enjoy “The Big Game” and all of the “Star-Studded Red Carpet Events” during “Awards Season,” because “The Battle of The Brackets” in March will be here before you know it!


Is Coke’s Trade Secret Out of the Can?

stamp-143799_1280In early 2011, the public radio show This American Life created an international media frenzy when it revealed what it believed to be the original recipe for Coca-Cola.

The “secret formula” for Coca-Cola — which has been locked away in a bank vault at the Trust Company Bank in Atlanta since at least 1925 — is one of the most famous and highly guarded trade secrets in the world.  Supposedly, only two company executives know the recipe at any one time and they are never allowed to fly on an airplane together in case of a crash.  (For more on the rumors and lore surrounding Coke’s secret formula, visit urban myth-busing website So, after 125 years of secrecy, how did a public radio show get hold of such a well-protected and highly-coveted corporate gem?  Did This American Life break into the vault or kidnap and tickle-torture one of the two executives until he talked?  No.  They opened a newspaper.  Apparently, the photo used to illustrate the story published in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution on February 18, 1979, was a hand-written copy of (Coke’s inventor) John Pemberton’s recipe circa 1886.  Talk about adding insult to injury!

This American Life has clarified its position on the recipe printed in the paper, stating that it believes the recipe is Pemberton’s original recipe or a version of Coca-Cola that he made either before or after the product hit the market in 1886, and not the recipe used today.  Perhaps this is because they tested the recipe and determined that it wasn’t quite the same as the Coca-Cola we know today, and, of course, The Coca-Cola Company denies that the secret is out.

Although you may not go to quite the lengths taken by The Coca-Cola Company to protect your trade secrets, you should consider what measures (if any) you are taking to safeguard your “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process that: (i) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and (ii) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” (Definition from Uniform Trade Secrets Act.)

Trade secrets — which often include recipes, sales methods, distribution methods, consumer profiles, advertising strategies, lists of suppliers and clients, and manufacturing processes — provide an enterprise a competitive edge and can last for as long as they are kept secret.  So, you would never want to include your trade secrets in a copyright or patent application, as they will be disclosed once the application or registration is published.

Although whether something truly constitutes a trade secret will depend on the circumstances of each individual case, for something to qualify and be protected as a trade secret:

  • The information must be secret (i.e., it is not generally known among, or readily accessible to, circles that normally deal with the type of information in question).
  • It must have commercial value because it is a secret.
  • It must have been subject to reasonable steps by the rightful holder of the information to keep it secret (e.g., through confidentiality agreements).