A few years ago, before the 76ers returned to playoff glory, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers’ ownership and front office began utilizing the phrase “Trust the Process” to represent their journey back to the top. Finally, after years of absolutely horrendous basketball, which enabled the 76ers to draft stars such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers finished third in their conference and returned to the playoffs for the first time in years. Evidently, the Process paid off.
Now, switching sports, after a season that ended with the Buffalo Bills being eliminated in the first round of the NFL playoffs and trading their once–prized quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, the Bills have drafted rookie quarterback Josh Allen from the University of Wyoming. For some reason, despite making the playoffs and presumably being a trade or two away from going further into the playoffs, the Bills have opted to rebuild. In furtherance of that process, the Buffalo Bills recently filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to register “Respect the Process.” The Bills intend to use the mark on cellphone cases, magnets, flags, towels, water bottles, door mats, and other similar goods. They do not, however, plan to print t-shirts reflecting the mark, as a company known as Made Me Tees registered that mark in early 2017 with respect to such clothing. In any event, it seems the Bills may have a larger problem looming.
Although the 76ers never registered “Trust the Process” or “The Process,” superstar Joel Embiid did. In 2016, Embiid, whose Twitter wallpaper features “The Process” in all caps, filed an application to register the mark, which is still, no pun intended, going through the trademark registration process, but seemingly on track for registration. So, this raises an issue: Can Embiid block the Buffalo Bills’ attempt to register “Respect the Process”? And better yet, if he can, will he?
The answer to the first question will depend greatly upon whether the USPTO’s examining attorney believes the marks are confusingly similar. Frankly, I’m not sure I think consumers are likely to confuse the two marks, but I haven’t researched similar cases and even if I had, the examining attorney could view the comparison differently than I do. As for the second question, it remains to be seen if Embiid would oppose the mark. He may not care in light of the different sports, or he may not find the marks all that similar. We won’t know until he acts, or fails to do so. In any event, given the parties involved, we will keep an eye on the situation and report subsequent developments.