NFL sues to stop trademark use on Web site
The league calls the site's use of "Super Bowl'' an infringement. The site's owner says it is being attacked because it is a minority firm.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 16, 2001
Real estate broker Melissa Yardy said "Super Bowl" used to fly off her lips so easily. No more.
"We've taken to calling it the big football game held the last week of January," the St. Pete Beach broker said.
But a Web site (superbowlhomes.com) promoting her real estate listings still uses the magic words.
So the NFL is suing Yardy and Provider Technologies Inc., a Tampa Internet company, over the Web site operated by the pair to rent homes to those visiting the Tampa Bay area for the Jan. 28 game.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York seeks unspecified financial damages and a court order immediately forcing them to stop using NFL trademarks.
"We're not saying nobody can ever use "Super Bowl' in any form or context," said NFL attorney David Proper. "But there's no doubt in our mind that these guys are using it inappropriately to try to create the appearance of an affiliation to our event that they clearly don't have."
He said the NFL aggressively attacks anything it sees as trademark infringement, which the league must be especially watchful for come Super Bowl.
In November, the NFL won $20,000 in damages from GCG Media in St. Petersburg, which operated a fledgling Web site called superbowltampa.com to sell advertising.
The site now is closed.
Provider Technologies, which actually owns the superbowlhomes site, and Yardy said they have tried to address NFL complaints.
The Web address has been changed from superbowlhomes.com to something with no pro football affiliation: istay.com.
The Web site now has an expanded disclaimer at the bottom of its home page that they say makes clear that the Web site has no affiliation whatever with the big game or the NFL.
Still, typing superbowlhomes.com on a Web browser provides a link to the real estate page.
At various places on the site, Web surfers will find the words "Super Bowl," including a page that says "SuperBowl XXXV Homes for Rent."
Provider Technologies president Darryl Madison said the NFL was aware of the Web site by early summer and never complained.
Madison said complaints didn't come until the NFL entered into an agreement within the last several weeks with eBay to promote similar property services.
"I feel like the NFL is attacking us because of our position as a minority firm," he said of the seven-person company with five minority employees. "We're not a Budweiser or a Coke or some big hotel."
Proper denied the NFL even knew that the company was minority owned and operated. And he said the partnership with eBay has nothing to do with renting homes.
"Not one word of what he is saying is true," Proper said.
Madison also said that other Web wites using or blatantly referring to NFL trademarks haven't been sued, including a site called superhomes.com.
But that site doesn't contain the words "Super Bowl" and doesn't specifically market rental homes for those attending the game.
"There's been absolutely no selective enforcement," Proper said. "We've gone after everyone that we know of who has infringed on our rights."
Provider Technologies began the Web site about 11 months ago and initially listed a few homes. Then Madison entered into a partnership with Yardy, an independent Re/Max real estate broker. The site now lists about 250 homes. Madison said he even submitted plans for his Web site to the Tampa Super Bowl Task Force.
"We're actually providing a service to make the game experience pleasurable to people," said Yardy. "We're promoting the game. That's how the area's economy benefits. I'm totally baffled by this."
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