Heisman Trophy Trust Sues Owners of Hiesman Watch Website

The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding player in college football. Unlike other most valuable player awards, the Heisman Trophy winner is spotlighted. ESPN, for example, has the Heisman Watch, but not the MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL most valuable player tracker.

Chase Leavitt, Joseph Middleton, and Kimball Dean Parker are Utah residents and operate a website at the <heismanwatch.com> and <heismancandidates.com> websites. The website uses a regression model to identify statistical influencers that drive the Heisman votes. For example, it predicted with almost certainty that Baker Mayfield would win the Heisman Trophy in 2017. The website is purely informational.

The Heisman Trophy Trust sued Chase, Joseph, and Kimball in New York for, among other claims, federal trademark infringement. The Trust alleged that it licensed ESPN to use the HEISMAN mark in connection with the Heisman Watch offering on its website, and that the boys from Utah do not have the same authorization. In this case, the Trust has the upper hand, just not in New York.

There is nothing illegal about using another party’s trademark provided that use refers to the trademark owner. In legal terms, this is called nominative fair use. In this case, the boys from Utah could have called their calculator something else, but said that it predicts the likely winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the context, HEISMAN is clearly being used to refer to the Trust. However, the moment the term was included the trademark for the calculator, a line was crossed.

But the Trust will have a difficult time keeping the case in New York. A passive website does not confer personal jurisdiction in every state simply because the website is accessible by people in every state. And the <heismanwatch.com> website is a totally passive website. Its only purpose is to provide information about the Heisman Trophy race. Rather than fighting the battle in New York, Chase, Joseph, and Kimball should make the Heisman Trust fight the battle in Utah.

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