Commanders no more?

The NFL team which changed its name to the Washington Commanders back in 2020, is struggling to trademark its moniker as the ‘Commanders’.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has denied the owners of the team, the chance to trademark the name, the ‘Washington Commanders’ because there are TWO specific entities which already own or have applied for names which sound similar.

What is the way forward? Does the Washington Football Team need to find a new name or can the owners fight to retain it?

Denied Why?

2JMRPJF August 6, 2022: Washington Commanders running back Alex Armah Jr. (40) during the team’s NFL football training camp practice at the Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland Photographer: Cory Royster

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben reported on Twitter on Wednesday May 24th that the application to trademark the ‘Washington Commanders’ team name had been denied on May 18th by the USPTO, for TWO specific reasons.

1: The name could be confused with an existing trademark called the ‘Commanders’ Classic’.

The Denial on the grounds of ‘LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION’ came about because it resembled the name used for an annual college football game which takes place between the US Army and US Air Force.

2: There is a pending application to trademark TWO names. A fan was guessing the new team name.

A local D.C. resident called Martin McCaulay had filed an application with the USPTO to trademark TWO names he guessed would be used to re-name the team; the Washington Space Commanders and Washington Wolf Commanders.

Why the application?

The decision to trademark the Washington Commanders team name came shortly after the successful purchase by the investment group led by Josh Harris, from it’s previous owners; Dan Snyder and family.

The team were sold for an eye-watering $6.05BN. It became the most expensive acquisition of an NFL team since the $4.65BN purchase of the Denver Broncos by the Walter-Penner group.

The Commanders name is still relatively new.

What’s in a name?

2GEP9M3 Maryland, USA. 20th Aug, 2021. August 20, 2021: Washington Football Team defensive back Troy Apke (30) lines up at corner during the NFL preseason game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland Photographer: Cory Royster Credit: Cal Sport Media/Alamy Live News

Washington decided to update its moniker back in July 2020, retiring the old nickname ‘Redskins’ which had been associated with the team since it’s formation in 1933.

In the interim period between deciding on Commanders, the team was simply called the ‘Washington Football Team’.

In February last year, the team unveiled its new nickname, ‘Commanders’.

What happens next?

According to Gerben, the new owners have some avenues open to them.

1: The Commanders’ Classic

From the Attorney’s Twitter thread, he stated that there TWO courses of action on this one. FIRST, the team can ‘file a response, arguing that a NFL team is unlikely to be confused with a single college game.’

They can also, ‘attempt to buy out the rights or sign a co-existence agreement.’

2: McCaulay’s pending names

So, according to the Washington Post, McCaulay sounds willing to cooperate with the team. According to McCauley’s lawyer, he ‘has no intention to stand in the way of the Washington NFL team’

‘Mr McCauley will gladly do whatever is in his power to clear a path for the Washington NFL team to rebrand itself without the need to incur substantial legal fees’.


2M7BW1K Landover, MD, USA. 8th Jan, 2023. Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) celebrates after the catch during the game against the Dallas Cowboys in Landover, MD. Photographer: Cory Royster. Credit: csm/Alamy Live News

A team spokesperson told the Football outlet Pro Football Talk, they were confident they will retain the name.

‘The trademark office’s recent nonfinal office action is an ordinary course step in the standard trademark registration process,

‘We will respond to the Trademark Office’s office action and are confident that our registration will be issued. In particular, there is no likelihood of confusion between our COMMANDERS marks and the COMMANDERS’ CLASSIC football game between the Army and the Air Force.

‘We do not believe that any trademark registrations that were obtained by squatters who attempted to capitalize on the Club’s name change should stand in the way of our registrations.’

Posted on: 26 May 2023