By Spencer Wingate, a legal assistant for Brock & Scott PLLC in Charlotte, NC and SportInLaw.com author.
Each Friday, The Legal Blitz features an article from our good friends at Sport-In-Law in our effort to fulfill our promise to provide the best sports law content on the Web. This week’s feature deals with a trademark infringement claim between the NFL and Who Dat, Inc., the company that claims to have coined the popular New Orleans Saints catch phrase.
Who Dat?, Inc. has reached a settlement with the NFL/New Orleans Saints over their trademark dispute. The settlement effectively dismisses the lawsuit and means the two will work together. From this point forward, all merchandise with the catch phrase will be co-branded by both parties.
The legal battle began when the NFL issued cease-and-desist letters to New Orleans vendors selling “Who Dat” merchandise. The NFL claimed they held trademark rights and would sue the companies if they did not stop selling the merchandise. After local outrage and support from the state congressional delegation, the NFL backed off their stance. Then Steve and Sal Monistere, founders of Who Dat?, Inc., stepped in. They filed lawsuits against the NFL and companies using “Who Dat.” The Monistere brothers referenced how they trademarked the phrase with the Louisiana Secretary of State in 1983. They had trademarked “Who Dat” before releasing a song with the phrase that became popular at football games. Their suits claimed the other parties had committed trademark infringement by engaging in business using the phrase. The Monistere brothers stated they have other partners who pay them royalties when they sell “Who Dat” gear. One example noted was their negotiation with a Saints Fan Club in 1988 to use the phrase.
The voluntary agreement between Who Dat?, Inc. and the NFL does not mean everyone is free to use the phrase.
Who Dat, Inc. has not settled legal battles with four companies regarding trademark rights. Lauren Thom, who wants to use “Who Dat” on her Fleurty Girl apparel, is still in a legal dispute with the Monistere brothers. She states all the settlement means is the NFL is no longer on her side.
The origination of the popular saying is of key concern in the remaining lawsuits. The source has been left for debate. Its citation ranges from a popular school chant in the 1970s and 80s all the way back to 19th century literature. Thom and others contend a single entity like Who Dat?, Inc. can not claim ownership of something that has been in the public domain for so long.