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Can Business Be Sued for Using the Term ’12th Man’?

Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images

It is undisputed that CenturyLink Field and the Seattle Seahawks’ fans help the team. They definitely earn the title, “12th Man.” As the entire Pacific Northwest adopts the title, recent news reports are warning that businesses should refrain.

KOMO News in Seattle claims the athletic director of Texas A&M (the trademark owners of the term “12th Man”) confirmed mystery shoppers in Seattle are looking for businesses infringing on their trademark.

Historians found the first written use of the term in a 1912 University of Iowa alumni publication. It was spelled “twelth man.” Students at Texas A&M University began referring to individuals or fans as “12th Man” in 1922 and frequently referred to themselves as the 12th Man in the 1920s. Texas A&M legally trademarked the term in 1990.

Throughout the history of the NFL, teams have used the phrase to refer to fans including Green Bay, Buffalo, Denver, Washington D.C., Indianapolis and Chicago. All but the Seahawks have stopped at the request of Texas A&M.

Seattle retired the No. 12 in honor of the fans in 1984. The No. 12 flag began being raised at games in 2003.

Texas A&M asked Seattle to stop using the phrase “12th Man” in 2004 and 2005 and filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in 2006. It was settled out of court and Seattle is still allowed to use the phrase in exchange for compensation estimated at $100,000 up front and $5,000 a year through 2016 plus respect to the Aggies’ ownership of the term.

So in short, businesses should not use the phrase “Super Bowl” in their marketing (that’s trademarked by the NFL), nor the phrase “12th Man” trademarked by Texas A&M.

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