The Washington Commanders rebranding process took years. Now a major hurdle may pressure the team to rebrand once again,
This week, the Commanders were denied their federal trademark application by the United States Patent and Commerce Office (USPTO), which could force the team to move forward without trademark protection – which would be the death knell in merchandising terms.
The USPTO had concerns that the trademarking would “likely cause confusion” with the “Commander Classic”, the annual collegiate game between the Army and Air Force. This is because both organizations share the name “Commander”, and are involved in football. If this ruling stands, it means the NFL’s Washington Commanders won’t be able to keep its name on merchandise terms, potentially opening the door for knockoffs to flood the market. It can’t use the team logo, which is protected — but the name and color can be duplicated.
It’s important to note that it’s still very early in the process. The team has begun a three-month appeals process to argue that there is no confusion between the NFL Commander, and one college game. Honestly, there seems to be a leg to stand on here, as I don’t think many football fans would honestly confuse the two entities – but this is an agency of the federal government, and logic doesn’t always match up.
The team is confident they will win on appeal. However, there is always the outside possibility that they may be rejected again—which will most likely lead to another rebrand. The advantages of holding the Commander name without a trademark are far worse than the embarrassment of rebranding.
This is where things get awkward. Martin McCauley, a 64-year-old realtor from Alexandria, Virginia became the pre-eminent trademark holder when the team initially announced it would move away from its previous racist nicknames. Putting forward dozens of potential team names under his ownership, McCauley has been branded a “trademark squatter” by fans who believe he is delaying the renaming process. For years McCauley fired back, saying it was in the name of altruism – and that he wanted to protect a potential team name rather than a team name. real Squatters are holding names hostage. He was reportedly offered to give up his name to the team for free, but it is unclear whether or not that was true.
This is why the rebranding process is more complicated than it seems at first glance. With favorites like Red Wolves, Veterans, America and Arrow all held by McCauley, there was a significant risk he could further delay proceedings.
The USPTO is set to hear the Commander’s case again in August. Regardless of what happens, we won’t see a rebrand in 2023, but if the team loses traction, there’s a good chance we’ll see the Washington Commanders play in 2023, before announcing another search for a new name.