If your employer registers a trademark for your stage name, how does that impact you and your future endeavors? And if you leave that employer, should they let that trademark go with you?
In an unexpected example of this scenario, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) recently relinquished its trademark registration for the word mark RYBACK to former WWE wrestler Ryback Reeves, who coined the name Ryback – and who now intends to keep using it beyond his WWE tenure.
Why did WWE give up RYBACK? And why did they claim it in the first place?
Trademark Opposition Grounds
WWE registered the trademark RYBACK in December 2012 in Class 41 for “Entertainment services, namely, wrestling exhibitions and performances by a professional wrestler and entertainer; providing wrestling news and information via global computer network.” This registration was obtained when Ryback Reeves was a wrestler in the WWE. He stopped working in the WWE in 2016.
The tussle began in late 2019, when Reeves applied to register the trademark RYBACK as his own wrestling brand. To lay claim to the persona, he had gone so far as to officially change his name from Ryan Reeves to Ryback Reeves when his WWE contract ended in 2016.
When he tried to register it as a mark in 2019, he discovered that WWE had just renewed their registration from 2012. To the wrestler, it seemed like a purposeful grab. A back and forth of legal moves ensued. Reeves was not quiet about it – he took to Twitter, touting: “I want everyone to see how petty @wwe is.”
Reeves asserted that the mark RYBACK is tied to him far more than WWE, pointing out that they were not using it on merchandise or for another player in the ring. He argued that WWE was using RYBACK to suggest a false connection with him. His Petition to Cancel filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board alleged Reeves never consented to the registration of the mark RYBACK by the WWE. He also alleged abandonment of the mark and fraud against the WWE. Apparently, Reeves had not worked for the WWE for three years when the WWE filed a Declaration of Continued USe in 2019 including specimens of use in commerce with the mark RYBACK even though the WWE was no longer using the mark.
Behind the WWE Curtain
While we do not know the totality of why WWE gave up RYBACK, the claims of false connection, abandonment and fraud can be used as a reasons to refuse a trademark. Those reasons can also be used to overturn a standing registration in favor or a newer, “more valid” one. The WWE probably realized the legal battle with Reeves would be protracted and he had a strong case.
Owners of trademarks need to be vigilant in protecting their trademarks, make sure they don’t abandon use and don’t file false declarations with the TTAB.