The logo seems generic enough. The letter W written in white, block type inside of a bright green box. It stands for WalletHub, a Web site run by District-based Evolution Finance where consumers can compare credit cards and find personal finance advice.
Major League Baseball thinks you might confuse it with the Washington Nationals.
Evolution Finance has been locked in a trademark dispute with lawyers representing the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs for two years after Major League Baseball, on behalf of the teams, opposed their attempt to trademark the white-and-green logo.
The league asserts that the WalletHub logo bears a strong resemblance to Ws trademarked by the two teams, and that granting Evolution Finance rights to use the mark without restrictions could create confusion for customers and complications for both businesses.
Evolution Finance, for its part, sees a bully. A large organization with deep pockets that can use its money to pressure smaller outfits into signing away trademark rights they should be entitled to the same as any other business.
Negotiations have yet to yield a resolution.
“It is common for trademark owners to sometimes overreach in protecting their marks,” said S. Lloyd Smith, an attorney at Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney who represents Evolution Finance. “They’re always concerned or cautious that if they don’t enforce their marks they might lose their rights.”
But many other consumer brands feature the letter W as part or all of their logo. Walgreens. W Hotels. Wilson Sporting Goods. Electronic records for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show more than 1,000 trademarks for just the letter W.
“The real question is why does MLB care?” Smith said. “They don’t own the letter W. There’s lots of other Ws out there. They’re just plainly overreaching in this case.”
So why does Major League Baseball care?
In documents provided to The Washington Post, the league states that the two teams hold trademarks featuring similar block-type Ws — not just the curly W more often associated with the Nationals. The Nationals hold a trademark for a block-type W that was primarily used when the team was known as the Senators. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ W is used on a flag that flies over the team’s stadium after a win. The league asserts that the resemblance to the WalletHub logo is likely “to cause confusion, to cause mistake, and to deceive the trade and public.”
What’s more, attorneys for the league claim that consumers will be lead to believe that the WalletHub personal finance site is related to or endorsed by the sports teams, which would have an adverse effect on both the Nationals and Cubs.
“We have been engaging in conversations with Evolution Finance about how its mark can be used and registered so as to avoid confusion with the MLB marks. We believe we are close to a resolution and are interested in resolving this matter amicably,” league spokesman Matt Bourne said via e-mail.
Representatives from the Nationals and Cubs deferred questions to the national organization. The attorney handling the dispute, Mary L. Kevlin of Cowan, Liebowitz and Latman, also directed questions to the league.
Evolution Finance CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou believes that the league has negotiated in good faith, but the restrictions it proposes are too onerous. A draft agreement shown to The Washington Post primarily demands the start-up not use its logo in connection with baseball or softball. However, it also requires Evolution Finance to agree it will not try to trademark a stand-alone W for any other goods or services.
Smith, the company’s attorney, said signing away rights to use the WalletHub logo in other contexts could have long-term repercussions for the company if it enters other lines of business or wants to use white-and-green logo for other purposes.
“They’re a small business. Small businesses are never quite sure where they’re headed in the future. They don’t want to give away all their rights when there is realistically no chance of confusion,” Smith said.
The next proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board are scheduled for March, unless the parties come to a resolution or extend the deadline. For now, Evolution Finance continues to use a small version of the logo in various places on the WalletHub site.
“This dispute has not held us back from using it whenever we want,” Papadimitriou said. “We have been using it for two years plus and no one calls us and says, ‘Hey, I would like tickets for the Nationals.’”