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Fan files protest on U.S. Soccer's trademark claim on 'Dos a Cero'

A soccer fan in Columbus has filed a letter of protest in the simmering trademark saga.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

​Dos a Cero means USA v. Mexico, but it also could mean big business. The U.S. Soccer Federation appeared to be expanding that business when they filed a notice of "intent to use" the famous "Dos a Cero" phrase in June with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This was, essentially, the first step in trademarking the phrase.

The move caused a minor furor when it was discovered in August. Many of the concerns stemmed from the USSF trademarking something that is a part of the identity of many American soccer fans, a phrase borne out of a chant by U.S. Soccer supporters. The team provided the score line and the fans built off of it.

This week, one of those fans attempted to block approval of the trademark by filing a "Letter of Protest" against U.S. Soccer's application with the USPTO. The letter filed by Morgan Hughes' legal representation delves into trademark law by arguing that the "Dos A Cero" word mark is "decorative or ornamental" and shouldn't be granted to U.S. Soccer.

When asked his reasoning in trying to block the trademark filing, Hughes was direct, "Dos a Cero doesn't belong to anybody. Dos a Cero belongs to everybody" echoing the concerns from a segment of American soccer supporters.

With a possible trademark fight brewing, Hughes was curt when asked if this was an attempt to gain control of the phrase. "Absolutely not." adding, "I have no interest in ownership of Dos a Cero".

Other fans have been supportive of Hughes. He recently conferred with several designers that previously have created "Dos a Cero" products in the lead up to the protest filing and each of them have supported an attempt to block any party from controlling it.

Todd Fichtenberg, Hughes' lawyer, elaborated on the reasoning behind the filing this week, "At this stage, the issue is not that anybody in Columbus wants to own the trademark rights to DOS A CERO, it's that nobody should own the trademark rights to DOS A CERO."

Fichtenberg further added "talented artists have been using this phrase on T-shirts and other memorabilia for years. DOS A CERO should be left in the public domain amongst grassroots soccer fans, where it belongs."

This situation bears similarities to the trademarking of "Columbus ‘til I Die", but there are distinct differences. The chant was trademarked by Homage in 2013 with the expressed goal of protecting the mark from misuse. Homage partnered with Columbus supporters group Crew Union during the process to try and ensure a proper outcome.
The current action is disputing that the trademark should be granted. Hughes stated that he has no wish to form a similar partnership or seek financial gain from "Dos a Cero".
The concern over use of the word mark comes from U.S. Soccer's initial June filing. The notice listed a wide variety of products that U.S. Soccer identified for possible usage. This included audio and video recordings, printed materials, clothing, and athletic equipment.

A trademark would allow U.S. Soccer broad control over the phrase's usage and would allow them to protect the mark by preventing others from creating products with "Dos a Cero" word mark on it. This would include the many T-shirts or posters that have sprung up around the U.S. Soccer rivalry with Mexico.

The Letter of Protest will be added to the trademark filing by U.S. Soccer in preparation for the USPTO to review the documentation. The USPTO will then review and determine if the application meets the standards for a trademark before deciding whether to publish the trademark.

There is no timetable for the USPTO decision.

Editor's note: Morgan Hughes is currently the co-host of the Massive Report Podcast. Todd Fichtenberg wrote a guest post on trademark law in 2014. Despite these ties, Massive Report or the writer is not party to the action by Mr. Hughes or Sunshine Brigade LLC and neither Messrs. Hughes or Fichtenberg had editorial discretion over the article.