In a recent decision, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“the Board”) sustained two Oppositions to registration of the mark Miners baseball finding the mark likely to cause confusion with an identical, previously registered trademark. The Applicant, a minor league baseball team in Marion, Illinois, plays in the Frontier League which consists of teams from six Midwestern states, including Illinois and Missouri. The Applicant applied to register the mark MINERS for use in connection with printed materials and “professional baseball imprinted clothing.” However, the mark was already registered and used by the University of Texas at El Paso for printed programs and college imprinted clothing. After evaluating the oppositions, and despite the University of Texas’s lack of a baseball team, the Board concluded that the minor league team’s use of the mark MINERS would likely be confused with the registered mark MINERS owned by the University of Texas. .

While the University of Texas at El Paso no longer fields a baseball team, it still makes good use of the mark MINERS though a licensing agreement with Missouri S&T. The Missouri S&T baseball team operates under the mark, and the University of Texas allows Missouri S&T to use the mark for college imprinted goods and entertainment services in seven Midwestern states, including Missouri and Illinois.

In analyzing the marks, the Board found that the minor league team’s mark MINERS was similar in sound, appearance, meaning and commercial impression to the University of Texas’s mark MINERS.

No shock there: it’s the same word.

The real issue before the Board was whether the goods and trade channels were similar enough to support a finding of likelihood of confusion as to the source of the goods.

When examining the goods themselves, the Board found that the University of Texas’s “media guides” bearing the mark MINERS were legally equivalent to the minor league team’s use of the mark in “printed guides in the field of professional baseball for media use.” The Board also found no distinction between the minor league team’s use of the mark for professional baseball imprinted clothing and Missouri S&T’s licensed use of the mark for college imprinted goods. The minor league team argued that “college imprinted” clothing was distinguishable from its “professional baseball imprinted” clothing because college clothing should bear the school name, be printed in school colors, or be accompanied by a sticker stating “Officially Licensed Collegiate Product.” But the Board rejected this argument, finding that the terms “college imprinted” and “professional baseball imprinted” did not distinguish the goods in any way. The Board noted that different types of imprinting, college or professional, could result in identical goods imprinted with identical marks.

Finally, the Board examined the trade channels through which the goods traveled to consumers. In so doing, the Board presumed that both the minor league and the University of Texas’s printed guides travel through similar trade channels to a similar class of consumers because the goods are so similar. The Board further reasoned that even if the word “collegiate” modified “media guides” in the University of Texas’s registration, the media guides would still be distributed in the same trade channels as the minor league team’s “printed guides in the field of professional baseball for media use.” As for the clothing, the minor league team argued that clothing items bearing the mark traveled through distinct trade channels to professional baseball fans sincethe minor league team’s clothing is sold primarily to Frontier League fans while the University of Texas’s clothing is often sold to fans in the Conference USA region. However, the Board found that no such restrictions on trade channels existed in the trademark applications and registrations.

Ultimately, the Board held that consumers familiar with the University of Texas’s mark MINERS would be likely to believe that printed goods or clothing bearing the minor league team’s mark MINERS originated from or are somehow associated with the same entity, even though the University’s goods are associated with college baseball while the minor league team’s goods are associated with professional baseball. The University of Texas’s opposition to the mark was sustained, and the minor league team’s registration was refused.

David Lilenfeld