Seahawks, 12th Man, 12s, 12's, trademark
SEATTLE -- When Chris Johnson began calling Seattle Seahawks fans The 12's back in 2006, he knew the phrase would stick. After all, like all 'Hawks fans, he loves the team.
Now, he is prepared to take the Seahawks to court over it.
Johnson, who is also the creator of Wee Hawk dolls, received a trademark for 12's through the Washington Secretary of State's office in 2006. Over the years, his side business was making t-shirts and wristbands using the phrase.
But as the team became more popular, Johnson says 12's started showing up everywhere.
"I've seen Lucky 12's, The 12's, I've seen the team using it to make money everywhere," he said. "It's gone beyond just coach Carroll saying it at a press conference and me being flattered."
For several months, Johnson has been in contact with the team to remind them he has rights to 12's. But since the Super Bowl, things have become ugly.
Documents show the Seahawks have applied to federally trademark the phrase in four variations including 12s, The 12's and The 12s. Any federal trademark would essentially wipe out Johnson's state rights to it.
"It's as if the phrase isn't mine anymore, and it is!" Johnson said. "This is a David v. Goliath kind of thing."
Johnson has filed a formal notice of opposition with the federal trademark office, but it will be an uphill battle, according to business attorney Lindsey Savage. She says Johnson will need to prove that he has been financially damaged by the team, and also prove that when fans see the term 12's, they identify with Johnson's brand and not the Seahawks'.
"He will need a really good legal argument," Savage said. "But there are many examples of the little guy winning battles like these."
Savage points out the case of Uzi Nissan. In December 1999. Nissan Motors filed a $10 million lawsuit against Uzi Nissan and his company. Nissan Computers. claiming cyber-squatting, trademark infringement and trademark dilution. Uzi Nissan prevailed and Nissan Motors was forced to claim nissanusa.com, while Uzi kept Nissan.com.
"He said, 'Hey. This is my last name. I'm using in commerce. I'm using as an indication of my source of my goods.'" said Savage. "You have to be really good at policing your brand."
The Seahawks did not comment on questions related to this story.