Monday, February 22, 2010

Protecting Cracker Jack and Other Roller Derby Names

Dear Rich: I'm trying to find my roller derby name. Being a sci-fi geek, I'm leaning towards the name of a character in a sci-fi novel that would fit me perfectly. Seeing that Frito-Lay has been suing a skater for use of the name "Crackerjack," I'm a bit concerned about infringement on any copyrights/trademarks. Would using the name of a character from a novel amount to infringement? I can't seem to answer this myself! No, using a name from a novel as a your roller derby name shouldn't cause a problem unless perhaps that name is used as the title of a movie or is so popular that people sell merchandise with the name -- for example, Skywalker or Mr. Spock. As you can guess, the more obscure the choice, the less hassle you will have. (Speaking of sci-fi, didn't you love that new Sam Rockwell DVD?)
That Cracker Jack Thing. Not to put too fine a point on it, Frito Lay didn't actually file a lawsuit over the use of the name; they filed an opposition to Ms. Bell's application for federal registration for CRACKERJACK. (This kind of thing is usually handled by paperwork filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, whose decisions are thoroughly explained here.) That filing is the kind of action that trademark owners feel they have to take if they want to preserve their rights in the future. (Not that it matters, the company didn't even devise the name, it's believed to have come from a customer who thought the foodstuff was "crackerjack.") 
The Dear Rich Staff would hazard a guess that if it had it not been for her quest for registration, our Frito-munching buddies in Texas would have left Ms. Bell alone. Still, it makes us kind of glad we chucked our Cracker Jack toy collection (even though by the 1980s there were hardly any actual toys, it was all these dopey liability-proof paper things. As always, blame it on the lawyers.)