Play Like A Champion Today LLC, founded by former University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, announced a five-year partnership with the university Wednesday, granting Notre Dame exclusive rights to all PLACT merchandise sales.
"Play Like a Champion Today" is a mantra appearing on a metal sign near the home team locker room at Notre Dame Stadium. It's tradition for players to slap the sign when heading toward the field before games. It is also a a registered trademark of PLACT, which filed its application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2006, according to sports law expert Michael McCann, writing for Sportico. Sportico‘s review of the filings found the USPTO published the trademark for opposition in 2008, meaning that a USPTO examining attorney had reviewed PLACT’s registration and found it complied with applicable legal requirements. Publication also notified the public that if there were objections from businesses, schools or other parties, they had better raise them before the mark is registered.
One school that might have objected — but didn't — is the University of Oklahoma, which claims a history with the phrase that may date back to the 1940s. A sign for the slogan was later placed in the Switzer Center and the words are reprinted on a mural in the tunnel that leads onto Owen Field.
PLACT, which counts former Notre Dame players Rick Mirer and Derrick Mayes among its investors, was represented in the rights negotiations by Athletes First CEO Brian Murphy, a graduate of Harvard Law School and — surprise — Notre Dame.
That Notre Dame coopted the phrase for merchandising purposes rankled some OU fans. A tweet by Adam Schefter announcing the partnership prompted the following responses, among others:
“Oklahoma has been using this since the 1950s….Good try Notre Dame.”
“So could OU challenge this and win if they wanted to? Bud Wilkinson started using that phrase in the locker room in the 1950s.”
“Notre Dame stealing this from Oklahoma and acting like they started it haha!"
"Has PLACT or Notre Dame broken any intellectual property laws by profiting off a slogan that may have first 'belonged' to another school?" McCann writes. "Almost certainly not."
According to McCann, the USPTO registered “Play like a champion today” in standard character mark to PLACT in 2009 for such goods as mouse pads, plastic key rings, mugs, cloth flags, towels and signs. The registration has been timely renewed and remains live.
PLACT recently filed USPTO applications for expanded commercial uses of the slogan. Last October, PLACT filed an application regarding the right to have the slogan appear in a stylized font set. In May, it filed an application for “alcoholic beverages except beers” and a month later filed an application for golf towels, golf bags, golf ball markers and golf divot repair tools. The golf-themed application came three months after another company filed an application for the mark, “yo golf swing play like a champion today!”
McCann writes, "It remains to be seen if PLACT’s new applications, like the one from 2006, will be reviewed favorably by examining attorneys and withstand possible opposition. Only then will we know if PLACT’s attorneys are champions."