Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. has brought suit (complaint
here) against competitor Wilson Sporting Goods Co. for giving a
Wilson® baseball glove with "metallic gold-colored
webbing, stitching and lettering" to a major league player --
Brandon Phillips of the Cincinatti Reds -- who has won the
"Rawlings Gold Glove" award in the past but is an
endorser of Wilson rather than Rawlings.
Every baseball fan has heard of the Gold Glove awards given
annually to 9 players from the National League and American League,
respectively, for their defensive prowess. Some fans may not be
aware, however, that the award was associated with a company. The
award was apparently instigated in 1957 by Rawlings and is
officially known as the Rawlings Gold Glove Award. (That's
certainly how Rawlings and
the official site of
Major League Baseball both refer to it.)
Rawlings gives winners a trophy made out of a golden colored
Although Rawlings owns incontestable federal registrations for
word marks such as GOLD GLOVE, GOLD GLOVE AWARD and RAWLINGS GOLD
GLOVE AWARD, it cites only common law rights for the "trade
dress embodied in the distinctive famous gold-colored baseball
glove that forms the centerpiece of the world famous Gold Glove
Award." Rawlings claims that it also gives winning players a
"functional baseball glove" that "includes metallic
gold indicia on the glove itself." Whether the players
actually use these gloves, and how visible and recognizable the
"metallic gold indicia" are to the public, will be good
topics for discovery in the case.
As many readers will know, attempts to trademark colors of
products have a long and storied past, ranging from the 1995
Supreme Court case involving Qualitex's green-gold dry cleaning
pads to the more recent case involving Louboutin's red colored
covered in our blog here. In this case, an added wrinkle would
seem to arise where a color is commonly associated with excellence
(i.e. gold medals) and with awards. The Golden Gloves for boxers,
Golden Globe awards for the film industry, and the Golden Spikes
for the country's top college baseball player all come to mind,
and a search on Google.com reveals a host of more or less obscure
awards involving gold-colored items. When a player wears a glove
with gold webbing, stitching, and lettering, is he arguably sending
a signal that he is both excellent and flashy? And if he is also
more specifically implying that he is a Gold Glove-caliber
defender, where is the harm in that if it's true?
Rawlings will have to try and prove that the gold-colored glove
Wilson gave to Brandon Phillips will cause people to believe that
Wilson, not Rawlings, is the sponsor of the Gold Glove award.
Survey evidence would seem to be the key to this dispute. It will
also be interesting to learn whether Rawlings has ever run
advertising or promotional campaigns in which it called attention
to the "metallic gold indicia" on winning players'
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