Fans of the New York Yankees might bristle when they hear their team referred to as the "Evil Empire." But the team itself doesn't seem to mind, at least judging from a recent legal dust-up over the phrase.
A panel of trademark judges in Washington, D.C., earlier this month denied a request from a private entrepreneur, known as Evil Enterprises, Inc., to register the trademark for the phrase "Baseballs Evil Empire."
Evil Enterprises wanted the exclusive right to market merchandise using that phrase, which was coined in regard to the Yankees by Larry Lucchino, the president and chief executive of the Boston Red Sox, back in 2002. Upon learning that the Yankees had signed sought-after Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras, Lucchino was widely reported as saying: "The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America."
Evil Enterprises initially applied for a trademark back in July of 2008.
But the Yankees objected, arguing that they had the rights to the phrase—at least when used in connection with baseball.
Part of the Yankees' argument: a concession that in the baseball world, they are, in fact, the "Evil Empire." In its legal papers, the team referenced a number of articles from the past decade using the term in connection with the Yankees, and conceded that the team has "implicitly embraced" the "Evil Empire" theme by playing music from Star Wars during their home games.
The panel of judges sided with the Yankees, ruling that the Yankees are strongly associated with the phrase. Allowing anyone else to use the phrase exclusively would likely cause confusion, ruled the judges.
"In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees," wrote the judges. "Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable trademark right in the term . . . as used in connection with baseball."
Gerard Dunne, a lawyer for Evil Enterprises, said he and his client had yet to figure out whether to appeal. "But we disagree with the opinion, because we don't think "Evil Empire" exclusively refers to the Yankees anymore," he said. "You've seen it used with the Phillies, the Rangers, and other teams."
Representatives for the Yankees didn't respond to request seeking comment.
When reached Friday, Lucchino said, "I give them credit. Their embracing it is clever indeed."