Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit to protect his “Johnny Football” trademark. The suit, filed by Manziel’s company, JMAN2 Enterprises LLC, seeks to prevent the sale of t-shirts with the phrase “Keep Calm and Johnny Football.”
The defendant, Eric Vaughan, faces claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition under Texas state law. JMAN2 Enterprises is seeking injunctive relief and an award of damages for the unlawful sale of goods, exemplary damages, attorney’s fees, interest, and court costs.
Manziel first registered the nickname after his meteoric rise to fame during his 2012 freshman season. The trademark registration was intended to prevent others from profiting from it and preserve Manziel’s rights to its future use.
In addition to trademark law, Manziel also has to contend with the NCAA. While he is playing in the league, Manziel cannot profit from the “Johnny Football” trademark. In fact, Division I rules specifically state that student-athletes may not “accept any remuneration for or permit the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.”
In this case, should Manziel be successful in his trademark infringement lawsuit, the NCAA has stated that it would allow him to keep any damages that he recovers. However, in response to concerns that this could create a loophole under which boosters could filter money to student athletes via IP infringement, officials will be closely monitoring the situation.
“They specifically called that out,” Texas A&M vice president of business development Shane Hinckley told SI.com. “If it was an orchestrated event between a student-athlete and a booster, then that would fall under the enforcement arm. So that’s pretty much out.”
We will be following the case and the NCAA’s position, as it highlights the interesting relationship between IP rights and amateur athlete rules.