Tom Brady Is No Tom Terrific Says The Patent And Trademark Office

Tom Brady tried to trademark the nickname "Tom Terrific." It didn't go so well.

New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, who is coming off a season in which he led his team to a record-tying sixth Super Bowl win and earned his fifth Super Bowl ring, tried to trademark the phrase “Tom Terrific.” It was a move that was widely panned in New York City, where even people who weren’t Mets fans in the 60s and 70s remember Tom Seaver, and it didn’t go over so well with the Patent & Trademark Office either:

Tom Brady is very, very good at his job.

But, according to New Yorkers, Boston-haters and one crucial federal agency, he is decidedly not terrific.

Indeed, on Thursday, no less an adversary than the United States Patent and Trademark Office pinned a big L on Mr. Brady, the superstar quarterback of the New England Patriots, when it declined his application to trademark the term “Tom Terrific” — a moniker long associated with Tom Seaver, the beloved New York Mets right-hander who helped pitch the team to a World Series championship in 1969.

The decision was blunt in its assessment of Mr. Brady’s case for the nickname, saying it could “falsely suggest a connection” with Mr. Seaver, who the office stressed was “uniquely and unmistakably” the only person associated with the nickname.

“Tom Seaver is so well known that consumers would presume a connection,” the office wrote.

Mr. Brady has been a mainstay in Boston for two decades, and his six Super Bowl wins have left some rabid Patriots fans calling him “Tom Terrific” as well, a nickname he has said he doesn’t like. Both he and his representatives insisted that their attempt to trademark the moniker was to prevent third parties from capitalizing on the unprotected nickname, both to his and Mr. Seaver’s detriment.

“A situation arose, unfortunately, where we had to consider an immediate defensive and protective action,” said Donald H. Yee, Mr. Brady’s agent, on Friday. “There is no intention ever to impact Tom Seaver’s legacy.”

But the news of the trademark attempt had provoked the ire of Mets fans, who were happily celebrating its downfall on Friday.

“I don’t buy the ‘I was protecting Seaver’ story,” said Mike Stuto, a longtime Mets loyalist. “Seaver and his family can protect his legacy without Tom Brady’s help.”

The decision also seemed to have accomplished an even more astounding feat, uniting Yankees and Mets fans in a moment of told-you-so schadenfreude in relation to Boston, New York’s archrival in everything from sports to marathons.

“Someone at the U.S. Patent Office must be a Mets fan,” Dana Monks, a self-described lifelong Yankees fan, wrote on Twitter.

The defeat at the hands of the patent office comes even as many New York sports fans have been gleefully watching the struggles of various Boston franchises: the Boston Bruins losing the Stanley Cup, the Celtics crashing out of the second round of the N.B.A. playoffs and — of course — the world champion Red Sox, who are 15 games behind the Yankees and unlikely to make the playoffs.

At the same time, Mr. Seaver’s own Mets have been surging, causing a spike of pride in Queens and dreams of a Subway Series, an intracity championship showdown last experienced in 2000.

Of course, considering Mr. Brady’s dominance in the N.F.L., the joy was hardly confined to the tristate area. Matt Talansky, an exiled Mets fan living in Los Angeles, practically cackled at Mr. Brady’s legal fumble. Mr. Talansky recalled how Mr. Brady was suspended following a 2015 championship game for his role in a scandal involving deflating footballs in a playoff game.

“Has anyone ever even called him ‘Tom Terrific’?” Mr. Talansky said. “Was ‘Vainglorious Cheater’ already trademarked?”

It was also being shared by fans of such long suffering franchises as the Cleveland Browns, a team that has never appeared in the Super Bowl.

“Even the government knows that Tom Seaver is the true ‘Tom Terrific,'” wrote one such Ohioan, in all capital letters, on Twitter.

The move by Brady and his legal and management advisers, which they have yet to fully explain, was widely panned by Mets fans and other sports fans across the country when it was first made public back in June. Even Yankee fans, who ordinarily wouldn’t side with their fellow New Yorkers on much of anything, were upset with the idea of Brady appropriating a nickname that had been associated with the Mets pitcher and star of the 1969 World Series Championship team throughout his career and long afterward. For whatever reason, Seaver never sought to trademark the nickname on his own, nor did he really seek to monetize it, although that was not really customary in the sports world at the time. Writing at the time, New York Post sports columnist Mike Vaccaro summed up the feelings of many sports fans quite nicely:

[I]t isn’t that Tom Seaver deserves some kind of special waiver to keep “Tom Terrific” as his nickname forever. Seaver, after all, also went by multiple nicknames. Personally, I always preferred “The Franchise,” because that was a far better reflection of who he was in his prime and what he meant – and means – to the Mets still.

But Seaver was also “Tom Terrific” a decade before Brady was born. If Patriots fans want to call Brady that, nobody is stopping them (though a talent that rare should probably warrant the extra effort required to come up with a name all his own). But if the trademark industry is so warped that he is granted this request, does that mean he will be entitled to a percentage every time someone refers to Seaver by a nickname he’s been called since the LBJ administration?

(…)

Really?

Pete Reiser would certainly have been interested in this legal precedent. He was, after all, “Pistol Pete” long before Pete Maravich commandeered it 30 years later, and before Pete Sampras would borrow it 25 years after THAT. Rocket Richard would have had some kind of fun serving Roger Clemens with papers. Michael Jordan and Michael Johnson could settle “MJ” over a game of H-O-R-S-E (or a 100-yard dash). Ted Williams never seemed much bothered by people calling Gary Carter “Kid,” probably because “the Splendid Splinter” and “Teddy Ballgame” were better, anyway.

Sugar Ray Robinson versus Sugar Ray Leonard? That could be an interesting way to settle things. Especially if the winner agrees to play a game of around-the world with Sugar Ray Richardson.

And seriously, Mr. Terrific? It never even occurred to Alex Rodriguez to call a lawyer when Andy Roddick suddenly co-opted “A-Rod,” and Alex used to enjoy calling lawyers for sport. These things tend to work out over time. On first glance, “A-Rod” is and likely forever will be Rodriguez. Pistol Pete is forever Maravich. LT is No. 56, not No. 21.

Tom Terrific? Why not just let history judge who that really is, as opposed to, you know, an actual judge? I can’t think of anyone else nicknamed “Pharaoh,” honestly, unless you want to take it up with the Triple Crown horse. Or “Sir” (unless Duke Ellington’s descendants want to have a say). Let’s call you either of these and then call it a day, what do you say?

The announcement of Brady’s legal move also seemed by many to be especially disrespectful and, well, jerky given the fact that it came just a few months after his family announced that Seaver was suffering from dementia and would most likely no longer be making any public appearances. Add into all of that the disdain that New Yorkers feel toward Boston thanks to the Yankees-Red Sox and Jets-Patriots rivalries, and that’s likely one of the reasons why the announcement of Brady’s move united Mets and Yankees fans and the news of Brady’s loss is being celebrated by both.

As a legal matter, this seems to be a correct decision given the relevant provisions of trademark law. While it’s true that Seaver never sought to trademark the nickname, the fact that it is widely associated with him is reason enough alone to deny the application. In addition to that, I have to say that “Tom Terrific” is not a nickname I had ever heard associated with Brady for the twelve years or so that he has been an NFL star. Apparently, it has been used before, most likely in the Boston sports media, but it certainly isn’t a name that he was widely known by. Given that, this move, in addition to being rather tacky, was quite dumb on Brady’s part.

Here’s the PTO Office ruling:

PTO Ruling by Doug Mataconis on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. M. Bouffant says:

    This is the only Tom Terrific I know, the original. Has he (or C.B.S.) no lawyers?

    ReplyReply
  2. Bill says:

    I grew up watching Tom Seaver pitch for the NY Mets. His first name is actually George.

    Famous Baseball writer Bill James while ranking Seaver #5 among all-time pitchers, said there was argument for Seaver being the best pitcher ever.

    ReplyReply
  3. CSK says:

    @M. Bouffant: Seaver is old enough to remember the cartoon TT. Brady? No.

    ReplyReply
  4. grumpy realist says:

    Yah the USPTO really really doesn’t like “conflicting” trademark applications. Bog-standard law. The only bit even moderately interesting about this case is that the conflicting prior trademark is what we call a common-law trademark (a.k.a. created by use and never registered.) The way it usually works out is if the common-law trademark (say, the name of a local restaurant) is geographically limited then the common-law trademark holder gets a “carve out” and the holder of the conflicting trademark filing for registration would get everywhere else in the U.S..

    Doesn’t work quite so well with a nickname known throughout the U.S., does it?

    ReplyReply
  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    it declined his application to trademark the term “Tom Terrific” — a moniker long associated with Tom Seaver, the beloved New York Mets right-hander who helped pitch the team to a World Series championship in 1969.

    @M. Bouffant: It’s the conceit of New Yorkers to not acknowledge that the TT moniker was stolen from the cartoon that preceded Seaver’s Major League career by 10 years. I am happy to know that I am not the only person* in the world who is aware of this fact.

    *Born in ’58 and christened Thomas, I was cursed from the gitgo with the nickname “Tom Terrific”. I did not leave it behind until adulthood, by which time most called me “Asshole”.

    ReplyReply
  6. John Peabody says:

    Actually, friends of St. Thomas called him terrific. But he never did make it to the US Patent Office.

    ReplyReply

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