Just in time for opening weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers won a preliminary injunction earlier this month against a T-shirt seller that was allegedly breaching the NFL team’s trademark rights.
The plaintiffs sued Eugene Berry Enterprise, alleging that the T-shirt seller was trying to knock off team products by attempting to trademark and sell a line of “Terrible T-shirts,” including a T-shirt that read “The Terrible T-shirt, A Pittsburgh Original.” Together with a nonprofit, the Steelers own exclusive rights to the team’s “Terrible Towel” merchandise, including towels, aprons, footballs, pillows, and totes.
According to the complaint, even the printer that produced the design asked if Berry had a connection to the Steelers or the Allegheny Valley School, the nonprofit that benefits from the sales of the Terrible Towel merchandise.
A federal court judge agreed that consumers could be confused about the source of the T-shirts and ordered a halt to their sales.
The defendant’s T-shirt sales are “diverting proceeds from their charitable purpose” and are “irreparably harming the plaintiffs and the Foundation’s more than 900 beneficiaries with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the court said.
Therefore, the interest of the public and the harm to the plaintiffs outweighed the harm to the defendant by issuing a preliminary injunction, the court concluded, and ordered the defendant to stop selling its T-shirts.
To read the complaint in AVS Foundation v. Eugene Berry Enterprise, click here.
To read the court’s preliminary injunction order, click here.
Why it matters: Now that the lockout is over and football season is officially under way, look for NFL trademark holders to aggressively protect their valuable rights.