Hartford Whalers Trademark: Who Owns The Rights?

Hartford_WhalersWith the introduction of retro Hartford Whalers jerseys to the market, questions concerning the rights to the mark “Hartford Whalers” abound.

The prevailing thought appears to be that the City of Hartford or State of Connecticut owned the trademark rights to “Hartford Whalers” but let the registration expire this summer.  There is confusion over whether the rights are now owned by the NHL or the former owner of the Whalers and current owner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Peter Karmanos.  In the absence of any concrete information as the ownership of the Whalers trademark rights, allow me to speculate:

First, there are at least two sets of rights.  The City of Hartford likely has the exclusive right to use the name “Hartford Whalers” in connection with a NHL team.  This right is likely the product of a contractual agreement between the NHL and the City entered into when the Whale moved to Carolina.  These rights have nothing to do with a trademark.  Rather, these rights prevent the NHL from using the Whalers nickname in connection with another franchise.  A similar example might be the Cleveland Browns franchise, which moved to Baltimore in 1996 but left behind the team name, history and records to the City of Cleveland.  I don’t believe that any such agreement would include exclusive rights to license Hartford Whalers merchandise.  Those rights likely belong to the NHL.

Second, we have the trademark rights.  Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.  Trademarks can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce.  As I wrote yesterday, the last activity in connection with the mark “Hartford Whalers” was a cancelled application back in 2001.  Thus, according to the US Patent & Trademark Office, the mark had not been registered in some time.

The fact that the mark was not registered does not necessarily mean that no one owns a right to the Hartford Whalers mark.  The NHL, or other entities, may own common law rights, arising from the use of the mark.  Federal registration is not a prerequisite to establishing rights in a trade mark.

The answer to who owns the rights to market the Hartford Whalers name is not entirely clear.  What is clear to me, is that there is significant interest in this issue and in the Whalers.

Comments

  1. That’s all very well and good but what about the copyright to “Brass Bonanza”?! Any Whalers fan knows that tune by heart….

  2. The Hartford Whalers trademarks were assigned to the Canes (http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=tm&reel=1714&frame=0906). One of the legacy registrations for hockey games – http://tarr.uspto.gov/servlet/tarr?regser=serial&entry=73237792 – is still live and managed by NHL Properties, the NHL entity that manages all the NHL teams’ trademark registrations. Puck Daddy also mentions that Reebok CCM is making the jerseys – that’s no coincidence, since Reebok CCM has the exclusive license to make NHL jerseys (http://corporate.reebok.com/en/about_reebok/faq_section/partnerships/default.asp#What%20is%20Reebok%27s%20relationship%20with%20the%20National%20Hockey%20League%20%28NHL%29?). Compare this to the Browns, where the trademarks were held in trust during the hiatus, http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=tm&qt=sno&reel=&frame=&sno=74300704. From the trademark records, it looks like the Hurricanes just own whatever rights are left in the Whalers name and mark and it’s just a routine jersey licensing deal.

  3. Back in 1994 or 1995 I did my own investigation of who possessed the merchandising rights of Whalers for a Whaler’s Night promotion I had been working on putting together for one of Connecticut’s Minor League Baseball teams.

    I was unequivocally told by the NHL by phone and letter, that the NHL did NOT hold the rights to merchandise the Whalers logo or name. But surely SOMEONE at the NHL offices knew who had possessed those rights at the time, right? So I kept pestering. Eventually I got someone in Bob Daly’s (Bettman’s Asst Commish) office.

    I killed them with kindness and someone pulled the file on the Whalers’ sale and transfer. According to the NHL’s paperwork, the State of Connecticut was given the licensing rights for use of the “Hartford Whalers” name in merchandising. It was also mentioned to me that usage of the term Hartford Whalers in anything sports related needed to be OK’ed by Connecticut as well.

    The irony is, I couldn’t find anyone in any office that knew exactly who to turn to to get approval. I called the offices of Governor, Attorney General and a few others.

    Ultimately, I gave up on using the logo for the Hartford Whaler’s night. The fan club lost interest because I couldn’t print a tee-shirt with the Whaler’s logo on it.

    BUT, I did reintroduce Brass Bonanza into professional sports. Around 2001, I came across my old cassette tape of Brass Bonanza. I digitized it and inserted it into our Click Effects program. I instructed our Sound board operator to use Brass Bonanza for really big moments in the game.

    Soooo – for nearly each home run from 2001 forward – Brass Bonanza was heard at Dodd Stadium.

    • I forgot to add that after sharing my revelation of Brass Bonanza for home runs at the Winter Meetings one year . . . the very next season the Boston Red Sox began using it as one of their celebratory run scoring sounds.

      As a Red Sox fan I’m very proud that I had that kind of influence!
      :-)

  4. Rob Forever Whaler Fan says:

    John is correct. Anybody who IS a real Whaler fan knows that the State of Connecticut owned the rights to the Whaler name and logo from the day they left the City of Hartford.

    It seemed to me to be the right thing to do at the time. But, in retrospect, it boarded on absurdity. As recently as 2009 not one Whaler item was allowed to be sold in the store at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto other than a PUCK!! For approximately 12 years the Whaler logo had been dormant, and for what?? The State of Connecticut politico should be ashamed for losing the Whale and keeping its logo from hockey fans.

  5. agrmarcasepatentes (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an

  6. agrmarcasepatentes Hands down, Apple’s app store wins by a mile. It’s a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games

  7. does anybody know what the fuck they r talking about-my god, u r all morons

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