If you’re thinking of using a famous sports team’s colors and slogan on your merchandise, you might want to think again.

While the team logo itself is typically a registered trademark, the colors used in the logo are not necessarily considered to be a trademark that can be registered on its own. This means that you might assume that using those colors on your merchandise would be safe, but it’s not quite that simple.

For example, if a clothing store creates a T-shirt using the colors of Louisiana State University (LSU) and a well-known slogan, without using any registered trademarks, you might think that it wouldn’t infringe on anyone’s rights. However, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that unregistered trademarks (also known as common law trademarks) are protected under the Lanham Act, the US trademark law.

The Lanham Act defines a trademark as

"any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof—(1) used by a person . . . to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods. . . ."

According to the court, the combination of colors, a well-known slogan, and identifying indicia can be protected as a trademark because they have “secondary meaning” to consumers and can function as “source identifiers” for licensed university merchandise.

The court also conducted a “likelihood of confusion” analysis in a trademark infringement test and found that the clothing manufacturer had infringed on the university’s trademark. Even though the colors and slogans were not actually registered trademarks, the combination of colors and well-known slogans was likely to give the impression that the university had licensed or sponsored the clothing manufacturer, and that the T-shirt was an official product.

This case highlights the fact that using even the colors of a famous sports team on your merchandise can potentially infringe on trademark law. So, if you’re designing merchandise that crosses international borders, it’s important to ensure that you’re not infringing on any trademarks, even if you think you’re just using the colors. This is especially important during events like the World Cup, where many people might be tempted to use the designs of popular soccer jerseys to create their own products. Be sure to consult with legal experts before going live to avoid any legal issues.

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