Neither the Rochester Chargers nor the Rochester Chargers have played a game on the field, but the semipro football teams are in a battle in the courtroom.
If that sounds a little confusing, then you already understand why one of those teams named the Rochester Chargers has filed suit against the other in state Supreme Court in Monroe County, claiming trademark infringement.
“To have the exact same name, there’s not a likelihood of confusion, there’s a guarantee,” said attorney Steven Feder of Pirrello, Personte & Feder PLLC, who represents the plaintiff, Demetrius Grant.
Grant, of Rochester, formed the Chargers of the Northeastern Football Alliance in 2019. The team was set to begin play in March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the season.
That same month, Patrick Freeman of Buffalo announced the Chargers of the Minor Football League were being formed and would start play in 2021.
While the team logos differ — both feature a lightning bolt similar to the logo of the National Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers — the names are identical. Court papers filed on Feb. 18 are not challenging the logo, only the name.
Grant’s lawsuit attempts to give him exclusive use of the name. Feder said the United States Patent and Trademark Office has already done so.
Grant filed papers to trademark “Rochester Chargers” on March 18, 2020. The mandatory “objection” period with the trademark office opened on July 21, and a trademark was registered on Grant’s behalf on Oct. 6.
“Once it’s registered, it’s yours and no one else can use it,” Feder said. “Within a week, this guy from Buffalo is giving interviews to News 8 (WROC-TV) for his team named the Rochester Chargers.”
Freeman was served with a “cease and desist” demand dated Oct. 26, but the team had continued to publicize itself using that name, Feder said.
“Depending on the mail, he would have received the letter in three or four days,” Feder said. “On Nov. 4, they filed the exact same name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It’s telling that on Oct. 26 we sent a letter and within four days of when he would have received it, he filed for the same trademark.”
What makes the matter truly confounding for anyone not connected with either sports entity: both teams were scheduled to begin their home seasons on June 5 at the former Sahlen’s Stadium in downtown Rochester. Feder said Grant’s team has since decided to play elsewhere.
Even players that had signed contracts for the 2020 season aren’t sure which team is which, according to an affidavit filed with court papers from the captain of Grant’s team, Tremayne Fleming.
“Some of those players have telephoned me, confused about who they should talk to and what number they should call, because they had seen publicity material online for the ‘Rochester Chargers,’ but the telephone number wasn’t the one they were used to, and the people involved seemed to be different,” the affidavit states.
Fleming’s affidavit said Freeman’s team was charging a $200 fee to participate in tryouts while Grant’s team required only a $10 administrative fee.
“Needless to say, the fact that some people think we are charging $200 per person is damaging to our reputation, promotes false information, and will cause some potential players to decline to try out for our team, thinking that we are charging such a high fee,” Fleming says in the affidavit.
Grant has already achieved one victory in court. Supreme Court Justice J. Scott Odorisi issued a temporary restraining order on March 2, prohibiting Freeman’s team from using the name. The order was in response to a request filed by Feder, in which he stated:
“The defendant has wrongfully appropriated the plaintiff’s registered trademark of “Rochester Chargers” in order to engage in the exact same activity as the Plaintiff — the creation and running of a professional minor league football team in Rochester, New York — and in exactly the same venue. Given the manner in which the defendant has gone about this, the defendant’s bad faith and willfulness cannot be overstated.”
Grant’s suit also asks that the court provide control of any online assets where the name Rochester Chargers is used, from social media accounts to team websites. The suit also asks for unspecified damages.
“They don’t have any legitimate claim to the name,” Feder said.
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