The Cleveland Guardians roller derby team has filed a federal lawsuit against the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, formerly known as the Cleveland Indians, “to stop the unauthorized use of its CLEVELAND GUARDIANS team name.”
The Cleveland Guardians flat-track roller derby team filed the federal lawsuit on October 27 in the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio, according to WKYC.
The lawsuit alleges that the Cleveland Guardians roller derby team has operated under its current name in the Cleveland area since 2013.
In July, the baseball team, formerly known as the Cleveland Indians, announced it would be changing its name to the Cleveland Guardians for the 2022 season, according to a tweet by the ball club.
Together, we are all… pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021
The lawsuit alleges that “the Cleveland Guardians have attempted several times to negotiate with the Indians to resolve this dispute. Those talks, which began right after the July 23 announcement, broke down on October 26, 2021. Plaintiff is therefore bringing this action to stop Defendant from stealing the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name and trampling on Plaintiff’s rights.”
Christopher Pardo, who serves as the lead attorney for the roller derby team, released a statement on the filing, according to WKYC:
Major League Baseball would never let someone name their lacrosse team the ‘Chicago Cubs’ if the team was in Chicago, or their soccer team the ‘New York Yankees’ if that team was in New York – nor should they. The same laws that protect Major League Baseball from the brand confusion that would occur in those examples also operate in reverse to prevent what the Indians are trying to do here. By taking the name ‘Cleveland Guardians’ overnight, the Indians knowingly and willfully eviscerated the rights of the original owner of that name – the real Cleveland Guardians.
The suit alleges:
By April 2021, the Indians had evidently settled on “Cleveland Guardians” as their new team name. And on information and belief, the Indians knew all about the Cleveland Guardians’ use of, and priority of rights in, the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name (including as used on clothing) at that time. Indeed, it is inconceivable that an organization worth more than $1B and estimated to have annual revenues of $290M+ would not at least have performed a Google search for “Cleveland Guardians” before settling on the name, and even a cursory search would have returned Plaintiff’s website (www.clevelandguardians.com) as the first “hit.”
The suit also alleges that on April 8, 2021, the MLB franchise “surreptitiously filed a trademark application for the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name in the small, East African island nation of Mauritius, effectively hiding the application unless one knew where to look.”
The complaint alleges that after two months, the ball club contacted the roller derby team on June 10, 2021, informing the non-profit that Cleveland Guardians was a name the ball club was considering, “even though the Cleveland Guardians objectively had superior trademark rights.”
The filing goes on to allege:
On June 22, 2021, Mr. Sweatt therefore emailed the Cleveland Indians’ lawyer and made it clear that if the club still wanted to use the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name, it needed to buy out the Cleveland Guardians’ rights and the roller derby team would then rebrand. To that end, Mr. Sweatt offered to sell all the team’s rights in the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name, including the clevelandguardians.com website, and invited the Indians to make an offer. As noted above, the Cleveland Guardians are a non-profit organization, meaning any moneyearned from selling those rights would be used to further the team’s not-for-profit purpose.That same day, the Cleveland Indians sent their response. Even though the team had already invested an immense amount of time and money investigating and planning for a name change, including filing trademark applications on an island in the Indian Ocean, when given an opportunity to acquire all the Cleveland Guardians’ superior rights (including both the CLEVELAND GUARDIANS name and the ClevelandGuardians.com domain), the Indians onlyoffered to pay a nominal amount, likely no more thanfifteen minutes of annual team revenue.
The complaint also alleged that the baseball organization went back to the African country of “Mauritius and made another trademark filing, this time for a logo.” The suit asserts that the logo had recently been finalized and bears a similar resemblance to the roller derby logo. “Curiously, though, out of any number of possible logos the Indians’ creative people could have come up with, the team selected a “Winged G” logo that looks remarkably like the Cleveland Guardians’ “Winged G” logo, which Mr. Sweatt had sent them just two weeks before,” the suit reads.
The case is Guardians Roller Derby v. Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company, LLC, No. 1:21-cv-02035, in the United States District Court for the Northeastern District of Ohio.