‘There cannot be two Cleveland Guardians teams in Cleveland’: Roller derby team sues baseball franchise

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – “Two sports teams in the same city cannot have identical names.” That line is in the first few sentences of a lawsuit surrounding the name Cleveland Guardians.

It is the crux of a complaint filed by the Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby against the Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company, LLC.

The Cleveland baseball team formally announced it would change its name to the Cleveland Guardians on July 23.

Since December 2020, when the team announced it would be changing the name, team owners met with tribal leaders and others to move on from the Cleveland Indians, a name that had been the focus of protests from Native American groups for years.

While those conversations were ongoing, the Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby had already been using the name for 7 years, according to the suit.

“Imagine seeing a ‘New York Yankees’ shirt for sale and buying it. Which team did you just support?” the lawsuit states.

“The same laws that protect baseball team owners’ trademark rights, though, also work in reverse. A Major League club cannot simply take a smaller team’s name and use it for itself,” the suit claims.

According to Sportico, Cleveland baseball filed a trademark for the name Cleveland Guardians on July 23, the same day of the formal announcement. Sportico said U.S. trademark law typically awards trademarks based on “first-to-use,” not “first-to-file.”

“Economic might, however, does not make legal right. There cannot be two ‘Cleveland Guardians’ teams in Cleveland, and, to be blunt, Plaintiff was here first,” the lawsuit states.

The Guardians Roller Derby said it registered the name with the state of Ohio in 2017.

“It is inconceivable that an organization worth more than $1B and estimated to have annual revenues of $290M+ would not at least have performed a Google search for “Cleveland Guardians” before settling on the name, and even a cursory search would have returned Plaintiff’s website (www.clevelandguardians.com) as the first ‘hit,’” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit makes another claim they say was the Cleveland baseball team’s attempt to keep people from finding their trademark filing.

“On April 8, 2021, the team surreptitiously filed a trademark application for the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name in the small, East African island nation of Mauritius, effectively hiding the application unless one knew where to look.”

According to the lawsuit, the baseball team contacted the roller derby team in June to let them know that they were considering the Guardians name, and requested logos and images to inquire about the derby’s intellectual property. The lawsuit claims that is more evidence that the baseball team knew that the Cleveland Guardians name was already being used and how it was being used.

The roller derby team told the baseball team they would be willing to sell the rights, the suit stated, but did not feel they were offered a fair amount for them.

After the derby team sent back a counteroffer, the suit claims the baseball team used a very similar “Winged G” logo that the Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby team had sent them when responding to the request about intellectual property.

The Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby team is asking for a jury to make a decision about the name.

The Cleveland baseball team released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying, “We have been and continue to be confident in our position to become the Guardians.  We believe there is no conflict between the parties and their ability to operate in their respective business areas.”  

Read the entirety of the lawsuit below.

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