Intellectual Property

Leafs go into overtime in battle against Snoop Dogg

A challenge by the Toronto Maple Leafs to protect its trademark against an incursion by rapper Snoop Dogg’s line of marijuana products with a similar name and logo has already created two winners, says Toronto intellectual property lawyer Taras Kulish.

Kulish, a senior associate with Steinberg Title Hope & Israel LLP, says no matter how the U.S. courts rule on the challenge, both parties have reaped gains from the resultant publicity.

“They’ve both got millions in free publicity from this,” says Kulish, noting it’s a fascinating case that many will be watching to see how it plays out.

Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, invoked the ire of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), owner of the Maple Leafs, Toronto FC and the Raptors, when he tabled a gold, stylized marijuana leaf with seven points for his line of products.

“The problem is — and the reason why MLSE is challenging the musician's attempt to trademark the logo — is that he’s also used the words ‘Leafs by Snoop’ in a similar fashion to the hockey team’s logo, which has ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’ on a blue, multi-pointed maple leaf,” Kulish tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“The thing is ‘Leafs’ is a made-up word. It should be ‘leaves’ to be grammatically correct,” he says. “MLSE owns ‘Leafs’ and when used in a similar fashion as a logo, it’s a problem. MLSE has to defend their brand and their trademark.”

The Globe and Mail reports Snoop Dogg filed a trademark application in July before the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the 'Leafs by Snoop’ mark that would be used on items including potting soil, hemp fabric, hemp seeds and blunts made from hemp.

Just last month, MLSE bought itself some time to decide whether to formally oppose a second trademark application filed for Leafs by Snoop.

“The application specifically deals with the words Leafs by Snoop, ‘without any claim to any particular font, style, size or colour’” to be used on cigarette lighters not made of precious metals,” the newspaper reports.

“Thomas Prochnow, a lawyer representing NHL Enterprises, filed the request for an extension of time on Aug. 16 on behalf of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE). The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the application, giving MLSE 90 days to decide whether it will formally oppose Snoop’s application,” the article continues.

Images in media reports clearly show the similarity between the two logos, he says.

“While the Toronto Maple Leafs' current logo is a retro design, if you go back to the Harold Ballard years of the 1970s and 1980s when Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald were on the team, it’s very similar to Snoop's leaf design,” Kulish notes.

Back in 1926-27 the Leafs’ logo was green and thus more like a marijuana leaf in today’s context but Kulish says that even if Snoop Dogg changed the wording he’s got to be careful.

“If it was ‘Buds by Snoop,’ it’s more of a grey area but, of course, buds is a nickname for the Leafs,” he says, noting Americans probably aren’t as sensitive to iconic hockey culture as Canadians and may not see the link without it being pointed out.

“Snoop isn’t backing down and neither are MLSE, this is going into overtime for sure,” Kulish adds.

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