Kobe Bryant, one of the best to ever play the game of basketball, has long been referred to by the nickname “Black Mamba.” After years of owning the nickname, he decided, through his business arm Kobe Inc., that he would apply to register the mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Despite not yet owning a registration for the mark, Bryant is seeking to enforce what he believes to be his rights by opposing others from earning registrations related to same.
Recently, Bryant filed a notice of opposition against 47 / 72 Inc. based on its filing of a trademark application for “The Black Mamba” for use in connection with online retail store services featuring shirts, hooded sweatshirts, sweatshirts, one-piece clothing for babies, mobile electronics cases, posters, pillows, mugs and tote bags. Bryant believes that 47 / 72 Inc.’s mark is likely to confuse consumers as to the source of the products being sold and is a false suggestion of a connection between 47 / 72 Inc. and Bryant himself.
Interestingly, Bryant, who filed his trademark application for “Black Mamba” in May 2016, did so under an intent-to-use designation and has not yet modified the application to demonstrate actual use. As such, the application, which also covers a wide range of apparel and sneakers, remains stalled within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s database. It is unclear as to if/when, Bryant will supplement his intent-to-use application with a Statement of Use showing actual commercial use of “Black Mamba” in connection with the products described in his application.
However, Bryant is not attempting to use his previously filed trademark application to bar 47 / 72 Inc. from receiving a registration for “The Black Mamba.” Instead, Bryant is resting on the fact that his nickname has been recognized worldwide to be the “Black Mamba” or simply “Mamba” for many years prior to his filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He has even authorized business partners, sponsors and/or licensees to use the “Black Mamba” mark and variations thereof without a registration in place. Said authorization allegedly began as early as 2007.
Additionally, Bryant cites to the fact that Nike NKE +1.86% declared April 13, 2016 (Bryant’s final game in the NBA) as “Mamba Day.” He also notes that the applicant he is opposing has purportedly filed other applications for well-known and recognized names and phrases associated with Taylor Swift, Beyonce Knowles, Jay Z and others.
As such, Bryant hopes that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (which has jurisdiction over the notice of opposition) will deem that the strength of Bryant’s common law trademark is worthy of defeating 47 / 72 Inc.’s pending trademark application.
Darren Heitner the Founder of South Florida-based HEITNER LEGAL, P.L.L.C. and Sports Agent Blog. He authored the book, How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know.