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Trademarks in the World of Golf

How In-House Counsel and Company Owners in the Golf Industry Can Take Stock of Their Game

August 18, 2017

Many of us golfers spent last weekend watching the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. I was fortunate to be out on the course for Tuesday’s practice round where, in the early morning rain, I followed Justin Thomas as he assessed the course five days before capturing the Wannamaker Trophy.

In addition to some amazing golf, what we also saw during the tournament, although some of us may not have taken particular note, is hundreds of trademarks. Golf is a haven for all types of product branding. From the obvious Titleist and FJ logos on Thomas’ hat and Polo and Citi logos on his shirt – to the less obvious but still present Aquafina logo on the bottle Thomas drank from while waiting to accept the trophy and the Omega logo placed under the clock face on the leaderboard at the 18th green.

As in-house counsel for a company in the golf industry, how can you know the trademark protection you have in place for your brand is solid enough that you can feel confident entering into licensing deals and sponsorship agreements? As players develop confidence in their swings by identifying what they are doing right and wrong and working from there, so too can you develop confidence in your trademark portfolio. 

This process starts with an assessment of your company’s current trademark holdings. You want to understand how well the trademark registrations you currently own match up with how the business side is actually using your company’s marks.

For example, you may be selling like crazy in South Korea, but may not have an application or registration on file with the South Korean Trademark Office, whereas you may have great protection in, for example, South America, but your company’s marketing and sales may not be targeting that area. An assessment can focus in on countries where you may be overprotecting (and overspending) or under protecting (and risking loss of trademark rights). 

Another aspect of this assessment is considering which brands are most prominent and valuable and which do not merit as much attention. Often, a company’s most important brands are its name and logo, along with the names of its best-selling products. For example, Cobra Golf Incorporated has U.S. registrations for the mark COBRA and the snake-and-crown logo, as would be expected. Cobra also has registrations for the marks KING and FLY-Z, two lines of clubs, MYFLY, the name of the loft adjustment system used on drivers, and COOL STUFF THAT WORKS, one of its slogans. 

It is well worth your time to go through your company’s brands and assess which marks you are currently protecting, the geographic scope of that protection, and which marks and countries may be thin on protection.  You may find you are already spot-on in terms of matching up your trademark protection with business and marketing’s use of your company’s marks. But in most cases, an assessment will show you at least a few areas where improvements could be made.

As the PGA players assess a course during the practice rounds so they know exactly what they’re dealing with, so too can you, as in-house counsel, map out how your company is currently protecting its trademarks.  From this map, you can develop a strategy that will ensure you are tending your marks in the most effective way possible. Then, when the next licensing deal comes through the door, you will be ready to negotiate with the same confidence Thomas showed us on the greens at Quail Hollow.

Sarah Nagae focuses on trademark and copyright law, helping clients protect their business names, brand names, logos, artistic works and other forms of intellectual property.  In 2013, she was among the first to become a Board Certified Specialist in Trademark Law in North Carolina.