Muhammad Ali Brand Enters Trademark Bout Over ‘Float & Sting’
It’s been nearly four years since Muhammad Ali passed on, yet the sports world still feels his presence. An Ali-Frazier statue went up in Pennsylvania just weeks ago, and a recently released non-fungible token (NFT) features the boxer prominently. The brand responsible for the intellectual property linked to Ali, though, is now in the news for stepping in the ring against a trademark infringement.
Muhammad Ali Trademark Fight
Muhammad Ali Enterprises, LLC is tasked with controlling all the intellectual property and rights of publicity linked to the boxing legend. They’ve found themselves involved in various lawsuits regarding these rights in the past, but a recent trademark application has landed the brand in the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) over “Float & Sting.”
An application for the trademark “Float & Sting” was filed by Ascend Concepts, Inc. and published for opposition to the Official Gazette on November 24, 2020. Muhammad Ali Enterprises requested an extension for time to file a trademark opposition, and then on March 24 officially submitted the Notice of Opposition.
The opposition notice states that “Float & Sting” infringes upon the Muhammad Ali’s trademark, “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.” Ascend Concepts – a digital marketing agency – listed its date of first commercial use of “Float & Sting” as June 19, 2020. Muhammad Ali’s trademark for “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee,” however, has a registration going back to 2006.
Grounds for Trademark Opposition
In the opposition notice, Muhammad Ali Enterprises says registration of “Float & Sting” by Ascend Concepts would result in a likelihood of confusion, dilution by blurring and false suggestion of connection. In addition to their registered intellectual property, Muhammad Ali claims that its rights over branding linked to Ali are recognized by common law trademark rights as well.
The trademark application for “Float & Sting” states that the trademark will be used for advertising and business services. Considering the global reach of the Muhammad Ali brand – and the fact that, like Ascend Concepts, it operates as a marketing agency – it seems plausible that use of “Float & Sting” would infringe upon the “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee” trademark.
This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that the TTAB case will end in the favor of Muhammad Ali Enterprises. The company will have to prove that the use of “Float & Sting” by the applicant is likely to confuse consumers, or dilute its trademarks or imply a false connection to the Ali brand. If they’re unable to do this, the Ascend Concepts application may receive approval.
What Happens Now?
Upon submission of the opposition notice, the TTAB set a trial date. Ascend Concepts has until May 3, 2021 to file an answer to the opposition. If they fail to do this on time, Muhammad Ali Enterprises will score a first-round knockout. This wouldn’t be anything new for the brand. They have a long track record of intellectual property victories under their belt.
If the TTAB trial goes the distance, this case may not see an outcome until October 2022. Even at that point, the parties could opt for a rematch in federal court. Of course, one may assume that this is a slam dunk case. After all, the similarities of the trademarks and the extensive commercial use from the Ali brand are apparent. Even McDonald’s, however, managed to partially lose its Big Mac trademark.
We’ll have to wait and see how this case eventually plays out. Unless Ascend Concepts can show its trademark use wouldn’t constitute infringement, though, it may not be long before they’re down for the ten count.