Published December 20, 2023

The National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles recently submitted an application to register the term “Kelly Green”. Kelly Green is the name of the shade of green the team wore for decades until 1995 when it changed to its current “Midnight Green” uniforms. 

The Eagles brought back its Kelly Green throwback uniforms for two games this season, which was so popular with fans that licensed merchandise distributors could not keep up with demand on the release date. 

Fear not, the Eagles are not coming for your crayons or otherwise trying to stop the world from using the term “Kelly Green” in its normal descriptive manner. Rather, the Eagles are asserting that they have been actively using the wording “Kelly Green” since July 2023 as a way to distinguish their football-related entertainment and education services. 

The Eagles provided a screenshot from their website in their application, demonstrating how they are using the term:

Kelly Green

So, the Eagles are using the term “Kelly Green” as a brand name for their services. By submitting their application, the Eagles are making sure that another team or business that provides similar services will not use Kelly Green in a similar manner as their brand name.

Interestingly, the Eagles are not currently pursuing an application to protect the color itself, despite precedents like Owens Corning’s pink insulation or UPS’s “Pull Brown” delivery trucks. The Kelly Green on the uniforms is certainly not functional, which clears one of the main hurdles for registering a color mark. More likely, any hesitation may relate to the team’s use of the color (or relative lack thereof) since 1995. As mentioned above, the team switched to a darker shade of green nearly 30 years ago, and it remains the primary color for the Eagles this season despite the throwbacks. Still, Philadelphia fans and NFL fans in general associate Kelly Green with the Eagles. 

No other team in the league has worn Kelly Green as any significant portion of the uniform. The Eagles have also continued to sell throwback merchandise over the last few decades despite the switch to Midnight Green. Fans could still buy Kelly Green Eagles jackets or trinkets, for example.  

It raises a fascinating question – could a business that developed an initial close association with a mark but then used it minimally for nearly 30 years still obtain registration due to a continued source identification by a nostalgic public? 

In the examples listed above, Owens Corning and UPS never moved away from their colors before seeking registration. But clearly such “public attribution” is recognized under the law. Think about the term “BUG” used to refer to Volkswagen’s Beetle automobile, a car practically discontinued in the US in the late 1970s but which saw a revival in the late 90s. For now, the question will remain unanswered.  

Steve Murray

Written by Steve Murray

Steven Lustig

Written by Steven Lustig

Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel LLP

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