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Can the Seahawks Really Trademark the Number 12?

The Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks are reportedly trying to use their infamous "12th Man" home-crowd advantage to lead the team to victory at the cash register as well on the field by trademarking several uses of the number "12."

The number "12" -- in reference to the Seattle fans' role as the "12th Man" on the team, after the 11 players on the field -- is just one of the terms the team has trademarked or is trying to, reports The Seattle Times. The team has reportedly filed two dozen trademarks since October 2013 for phrases including "Go Hawks" and the word "boom."

But can the Seahawks really trademark the number "12?"

What Is a Trademark?

Generally speaking, a trademark can be a word, a symbol, or device used to indicate the source of goods and to distinguish them from goods made by others. Trademark rights are generally used to prevent others from selling goods with a confusingly similar trademark.

You do not need to register a trademark to have trademark rights; these rights can be established by using the trademark in legitimate business. But registering your trademark has several advantages:

  • You may discover that someone has already registered the trademark you were attempting to use;
  • You will have exclusive rights to use it within the geographic area of the trademark registration; and
  • Anyone who uses your trademark will be presumed to be a willful infringer.

'12th Man' Trademark Dispute

The Seahawks are reportedly seeking several trademarks for use of the number 12, in part because the phrase "12th Man" is already trademarked by Texas A&M University. The Seahawks actually pay Texas A&M a license to allow the team to use the "12th Man" phrase in limited circumstances, but the license doesn't include use of the phrase on merchandise.

According to the Seattle Times, the team has been denied a trademark by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the number "12" at least twice, but not because you can't trademark a number. Rather, the trademark applications were denied because of existing trademarks owned a NASCAR team and a hotel.

Still, the Seahawks have been successful in trademarking the number "12" as part of a flag design and has filed trademark applications for a number of other "12"-related phrases. According to the Seattle Times, the Seahawks have submitted 24 trademark applications in just the past 15 months.

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