Catch phrases extend celebrity brands

The Licensing Letter reports sports licensing generates over $1B in revenue a year. We are used to athletes trademarking their names and creating vehicles to manage that IP. For example, Lebron James has set up a domestic LLC for his for-profit enterprises and a non-profit corporation for his charitable work. Tiger Woods, following in the tax-avoiding footsteps of the technology behemoths, created a foreign corporation, Tiger Woods Enterprises S.A., to hold his trademarks. 

But an athlete’s celebrity value doesn’t stop with the name. Canadian entertainment and sports lawyer Len Glickman and others assembled a list of “catch phrases” also being given or considered for trademark status. These catch phrases extend a celebrity’s brand. Here are some examples:

  • 'Linsanity,' current Houston Rocket and former New York Knick Jeremy Lin;
  • 'Stomp You Out' & 'Stomp Them Out,' Michael Strahan;
  • 'Lovee,' Venus and Serena Williams;
  • 'You Cannot Be Serious,' John McEnroe;
  • 'LIVESTRONG,' the Lance Armstrong Foundation;
  • 'Turn 2,' Derek Jeter.
As Glickman explains, the law supporting the extension of publicity rights to catch phrases was established in John W. Carson and Johnny Carson Apparel, Inc. v Here’s Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc. 698 F 2d 831 (6th Cir 1983). “Here’s Johnny” was the popular introduction Ed McMahon used to introduce Johnny Carson each night as host of the Tonight Show. Though Carson didn’t win his case (few would confuse a toilet with a TV show), the publicity rights that attach to catch phrases were established by the appellate court.