The “Linsanity” Trademark Rush
By now, the story should be familiar. A brainy, devoutly Christian kid grows up in California on a rigorous regimen of basketball skills training. The twist: it’s conducted by his Taiwanese-immigrant, computer-engineering-Ph.D. dad, who taught himself the game from scratch by obsessively studying the NBA video library he compiled via VCR. Thanks to a ton of hard work and a growth spurt that got him to 6’3″, Jeremy Lin became a California high school basketball standout, but none of the big programs wanted him. So, he went to Harvard and beat up the Ivy League, as well as some of the big boys of college hoops (Exhibit A: the 30 points he dropped on UConn in 2009). Then nobody in the NBA drafted him. The first two teams dumped him unceremoniously after short stints riding the pine. When he picked up with his third team, the Knicks, he considered his job security so poor that he was sleeping on the couch in his brother’s one-bedroom Lower East Side apartment. Then, it happened.
Lin got some minutes and impressed enough to earn a start. Five starts later, he has broken Shaquille O’Neal’s record for most points scored in a player’s first five starts. And, playing for New York, he has had the biggest possible stage to display a solid sense of humor, a wholesome swagger, and a whole lot of game. No surprise that he already has a Nike shoe and the best selling jersey in the NBA. Indeed, there’s a lot of money to be made. Lin’s making some, as are the Knicks, the NBA and Nike, apparently. But a lot of other people want in. A friend in New York sent me the photo below, which he snapped at a Midtown Manhattan bakery that was moving “Lin 17” cookies at a rapid clip. And two especially enterprising individuals have sought to trademark the term most closely associated with the Jeremy Lin bandwagon: “Linsanity.”
Basketball has a notable trademark tradition, most prominently Pat Riley’s successful 1989 application to trademark “three-peat” and “3-peat” while head coach of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers. But expert commentators are highly skeptical of both would-be trademarkers’ applications. A trademark is supposed to distinguish a source of goods from others. So the first filer, Yenchin Matthew Chang—who could offer only that he’s Taiwanese-American like Lin and “wants to be part of the excitement”—has a flimsy claim apart notwithstanding his chronological primacy. Indeed, he hasn’t even made a t-shirt yet, just claims he intends to. The second filer, Andrew Slayton, was Lin’s high school basketball coach and in 2010 registered Linsanity.com, where he sells shirts with catchphrases such as “Lin.Y.C.,” “Lin Your Face,” and of course “Linsanity.” But even his substantially better case may fail for the same reason as trademark applications that sought to trademark phrases like “Winning!” and “Bi-winning” after Charlie Sheen’s meltdown. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office deemed them to “falsely suggest a connection with the actor Charlie Sheen.” So, it may not be quite that easy to lay sole claim to a piece of the growing landscape of LinMania.
I, for one, am already getting tired of the phrase. #LinItToWinIt, anyone?