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The soon-to-be former Cleveland Indians have hit a snag as they prepare to formally change their name to the Cleveland Guardians before the 2022 season: A Cleveland Guardians sports team already exists, and it is suing the baseball team.
Talia Naquin of Fox 8 in Cleveland reported that the Cleveland Guardians Roller Derby team filed a complaint against the Cleveland Guardians Baseball Company LLC on Wednesday to stop it from using the name the roller derby teams says it's been using for over seven years. According to the suit, the roller derby team has been operating as the Cleveland Guardians since 2013. In those seven years, it's consistently sold merchandise and held events using that name, and it owns the rights to www.clevelandguardians.com. It also say that it registered the name with the Ohio Secretary of State in 2017.
"The same laws that protect baseball team owners’ trademark rights, though, also work in reverse," the suit says. "A Major League club cannot simply take a smaller team’s name and use it for itself."
The Cleveland baseball team announced on July 23, 2021, that it would officially change its name to the Cleveland Guardians for the 2022 baseball season.
Derby team claims Cleveland knew about name conflict
The roller derby team claims that the Cleveland baseball team knew about the name conflict as early as April 2021, when it "surreptitiously" filed a trademark application for the Cleveland Guardians name in the East African island of Mauritius, making it extremely difficult to find. The derby team claims that this was an effort to hide the trademark application, indicating that the baseball team knew there was already a conflict.
“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 says.
According to the suit, the derby team said it was willing to sell the rights to the Guardians name to the Cleveland baseball team, but it didn't feel it was offered a fair price. The derby team also claims that Cleveland lied to the U.S. Trademark Office about its knowledge of the name conflict.
The Cleveland baseball team has yet to comment on the lawsuit.