ANDERSON, Ind. — Roy Fox, an entrepeneural Indianapolis Colts fan, says he was sacked by the National Football League before he could even test the market for his "Harbowl" T-shirts, hats and other merchandise..
He applied for the unclaimed trademark last February in the likelihood San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would face off against his older brother, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, in this year's Super Bowl.
But public notice of the application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office brought a series of objections from the NFL on the ground "Harbowl" could be confused with the the league's Super Bowl trademark.
The NFL threatened legal action if Fox didn't abandon his application -- a warning that eventually caused him to do just that three months before the Harbaugh brothers' Super Bowl matchup became a certainty.
“I just feel like a whipped dog,” said Fox, 39, of Pendleton, Ind. “After a point, it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Fox said he got the idea to trademark "Harbowl" when the 2012 conference championship games featured San Francisco against the New York Giants, and Baltimore against the New England Patriots. The Harbough brothers' teams lost both games, but Fox figured they would eventually compete against each other in the Super Bowl.
Besides, he added, if former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley could trademark "Three-Peat" surely he could do the same with "Harbowl."
Fox said the NFL's objection began with a polite letter asking him to abandon his trademark application, but turned aggressive when he declined to do so immediately.
The league's initial letter said it was “concerned that, because our mark and your applied-for marks are similar, it may cause the public to mistakenly believe that your goods and/or services are authorized or sponsored by or are somehow affiliated with the NFL or its Member Clubs.”
A sternly-worded followup letter caused Fox to withdraw the trademark application if the NFL reimbursed him for his $1,000 application fee.
When the league turned that down, he asked for season tickets to Colts games or a signed photo of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- the latter because Fox wanted to include "the most ridiculous or smallest thing I could ask for."
Both requests were denied outright, and triggered a warning that if Fox didn't abandon his trademark effort by Nov. 7, the NFL would sue him in court and attempt to recover its legal costs from him.
That convinced Fox to withdraw the application on Oct. 24, even though similar challenges to unclaimed trademarks have failed in the past.
"I don't have that kind of money,” he said. “I couldn't take that chance.”
The Anderson, Ind., Herald Bulletin contributed details to this story.