John Cena not long ago built waves after apologizing to the People’s Republic of China for contacting Taiwan a “country” all through an job interview with a Taiwanese broadcaster. Cena’s apology, shipped in Mandarin Chinese by the wrestler himself, prompted critics to declare that the extensive-time WWE celebrity had been bought and paid for by the mounting globe superpower.
Having said that, China getting such an possession fascination in Cena is not achievable, at the very least less than the phrases of intellectual home regulation — he belongs to the WWE. Despite the fact that “John Cena” is the wrestler’s authentic identify, WWE controls the trademark rights to it. Any time the name “John Cena” appears in a business or movie, the WWE receives a minimize.
Cena, arguably the company’s greatest superstar given that Dwayne Johnson and Steve Austin traded blows for the duration of the late 1990s, willingly signed more than those people legal rights. Throughout an interview with Howard Stern, Cena stated that operator Vince McMahon’s WWE engineered his achievement and therefore deserved a percentage of his earnings.
Whilst not each WWE wrestler feels similarly, number of wrestlers understand the high-quality factors of the Lanham Act — the most important federal trademark statute in the U.S., which prohibits trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and other techniques that could affect the worth of the trademark.
When a youthful wrestler indications with the WWE, as former WWE star Ryan “Ryback” Reeves stated in a modern job interview, the company’s lawyers normally present them with a boilerplate contract in which they sign about their ring identify, genuine name, likeness, signature, props, gestures, and routines. No issue how perfectly-known a wrestler was prior to signing with the WWE, they’re typically rebranded on entry. Tyler Black, already very well-recognized about the planet below this authentic ring name, yet entered the WWE as Seth Rollins. Bryan Danielson, equally set up, grew to become Daniel Bryan. Previous WWE Diva Barbara Blank was saddled with the moniker Kelly Kelly for the reason that, in accordance to Vince McMahon, “we’ve hardly ever provided anybody two initial names before.”
The company’s intense strategy to intellectual home drew countrywide focus very last Oct, when Vince McMahon despatched a terse cease-and-desist memorandum to wrestlers engaged in Twitch streaming and personalised Cameo movie creation. Despite the fact that some wrestlers made use of those platforms less than their true names, McMahon recognized the toughness of his posture: possibly those serious names had previously been explicitly signed about to the WWE or, if not, the true names have been building worth only for the reason that viewers and shoppers understood the wrestlers through their WWE ring names.
“At the conclude of the day, numerous companies are practically nothing more than large bundles of IP,” suggests small business analyst Ben Labe. “They really don’t possess elaborate manufacturing amenities or extensive stretches of land. As far as trademarks go, Disney is the model business enterprise — they have the rights to the numerous franchises that retain finding created and remade into tedious blockbuster films. But the WWE, despite additional modest annual income in the community of a billion bucks, is exceptionally aggressive about IP. They trademark every thing, they do so promptly, and they defend them aggressively.”
The WWE is so intense, in point, that it at times sees trademarks rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office environment (USPTO) because it fails to post applications accompanied by the signed consent of the personal whose name is currently being trademarked. When the WWE submitted the application to sign-up “JOHN CENA” as a services mark in 2003, the USPTO rejected it a couple of months later on because Cena’s signed permission hadn’t been hooked up. The application was resubmitted with Cena’s signature in 2004, then accepted a 12 months afterwards. Additional just lately, in February 2021, the USPTO rejected the WWE’s software to sign-up the names Dominik Mysterio and Dominik Gutiérrez — the ring and real names, respectively, of the son of lengthy-time wrestling star Rey Mysterio.
“It’s doable this is just an administrative oversight provided how a lot of of these are probable being processed in a calendar yr for the corporation, possibly any place from 40 to 50,” claims Labe. “But if you study the WWE’s response to adverse USPTO company action relating to their attempts to sign-up the identify ‘Rey Mysterio’ as a service mark again in 2005, their lawyer is arguing the business ought to be in a position to trademark the names of any one on their energetic roster, no matter of no matter whether the specific utilized the identify previously, like Rey did, and regardless of whether Rey gave signed consent. That is wild!”
Ryan Reeves, who wrestled as Ryback and lawfully adjusted his identify to Ryback in 2016, wasn’t knowledgeable of the phrases and disorders of the deal he signed. When questioned throughout an job interview about this subject about how the trademarks influence the use of his first real title for online marketing and advertising needs, he defined that he was not completely certain but found himself engaged in the costly method of recovering the Ryback trademark, which he claimed would price tag tens of thousands of dollars and may well not even perform out in his favor.
Ryback’s determination to modify his genuine name recalled a very similar shift by Jim “Ultimate Warrior” Hellwig when he altered his name to Warrior during a 1993 trademark dispute with the WWE. The Best Warrior conditions — there were this kind of scenarios, a trademark circumstance made the decision at the point out supreme court amount in 1997 and a copyright circumstance resolved in federal court docket in 1999 — are occasionally cited as precedent, but absence dispositive worth. The trademark situation, Warrior v. Titan Sports activities, Inc. (Ariz. Sup. Ct. 1997), involved the use of “Warrior,” which Hellwig experienced lawfully transformed his name to in 1993. The WWE did not own the legal rights to the title “Jim Hellwig,” and the name Hellwig picked for himself, “Warrior,” was particularly selected to stay away from confusion with the “Ultimate Warrior.” As a consequence, the court held that Hellwig’s “Warrior” title did not infringe on the WWE’s “Ultimate Warrior” trademark.
“The Warrior problem is a significantly cry from the situation in which a firm owns both the serious name you are transforming and the ring name you’ve transformed it to,” claims Nevada-based tax and intellectual assets attorney Aaron Richter. “Honestly, that near nexus among your serious identify and the ring title they give you…it’s a recipe for a violation of the Lanham Act. When you are searching for a Lanham Act violation, you appear to see if the mark is lawfully legitimate, you search to see who owns it, and eventually you establish no matter whether the mark is resulting in confusion. In the situation of these ring names, due to the fact the WWE made use of its global platform to greatly enhance the brand name of even the greatest-identified wrestlers they signal, there’s arguably infringement taking place extended after the wrestlers have remaining the corporation.”
“It’s even much more challenging if they’ve adequately trademarked the wrestler’s actual name,” Richter carries on. “And we’re not even receiving into how the wrestlers may also be contracting away their point out-amount suitable to publicity, which supplies a frequent-regulation or state-legislation way to prevent commercial exploitation of your id. It goes on and on. Not even a billion-dollar organization has the means to pursue each individual instance of their wrestlers acting out, but the WWE could go following any former wrestler if they wished to, I suppose.”
And at times they do. For case in point, when tag team wrestlers Money Wheeler and Dax Harwood left the WWE last calendar year to be part of All Elite Wrestling, they tried to trademark a wide variety of conditions connected to their manufacturer — “no flips, just fists,” “top men,” and “say yeah” between them — only to have the WWE reply to their USPTO application by noting that these phrases were coined by the WWE and do not represent “wrestler-produced intellectual home.”
But Wheeler and Harwood maintain a trump card: they’re doing the job with Tampa lawyer Michael Dockins, who specializes in the particularly market place of trademarking wrestling gimmicks.
“It’s a great strategy to perform with an knowledgeable IP lawyer earlier in your job, so you can enter the WWE with vital features of your brand name previously trademarked,” explains lawyer Richter. “You then have leverage to either transfer the trademark to the WWE, it’s possible for some further dollars, or preserve the trademark so you can use it after you go away. The firm may well try out to limit what you can do in terms of outdoors earnings streams, as a condition of your employment as an unbiased contractor when you’re there, but your trademarked title will stay your title when you hit the highway.”
Samoa Joe, a very long-time Ring of Honor and Complete Nonstop Motion stalwart, recently still left the WWE and took his previously-trademarked name with him. Bo Dallas and Mojo Rawley — true names Taylor Rotunda and Dean Muhtadi, respectively — may possibly close up with their ring names in spite of earlier WWE attempts to trademark them, simply because the purposes are continue to pending the published consent of the performers. None of these 3 seem very likely to end up like AEW wrestler and government Cody Runnels, who stays deeply conflicted about how his very well-set up ring name “Cody Rhodes” as well as his father’s popular ring identify “Dusty Rhodes” stay underneath WWE manage.
Even with the WWE’s ideal endeavours to control every factor of their wrestlers’ life, to virtually “own” their genuine and digital presences down to the smallest element, wrestlers can fight back by savvy stewardship of their possess manufacturers.
“Before you go there, get an attorney,” advises Richter. “Get your have home in buy. And if you have previously signed on and know they are seeking to trademark your identify, really don’t rush to give created consent. Drag your toes. Preserve forgetting to sign the kind. The moment you are gone from the enterprise and that USPTO software is deserted mainly because they never bought your published consent, the ring identify is good activity once again — the WWE tried using to trademark the ring name Val Venis in 2007, long soon after that person had remaining the company, and their software got rejected. Now this aged wrestler is all over social media today as former WWE star Val Venis, publishing his kooky conspiracy theories, and the WWE can not do anything about that.”
This short article was supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Basis. The contents of this publication are exclusively the duty of the authors.