Pat Riley's Copyrighted Word

I have heard this one floating around for quite some time now and would like to get the straight dope. Pat Riley (then the Laker coach) supposedly copyrighted the term “Thre*peat” (I don’t think it applies in this case but the SDMB can get touchy when dealing with copyright infringement so I use the substitute) to refer to winning three consecutive championships (something his teams have never managed to do).

Do a google search and you get a bunch of hits that say something like"[ul] * Do I really owe Pat Riley money every time I say “thre*peat?”

  • A few years ago then-Laker coach Pat Riley wanted to copyright the word “Thre*peat.”
  • Do you remember when Pat Riley, former coach of the LA Lakers, tried to trademark the phrase “Thre*Peat”
  • Pat Riley will once again make some more cash. Years ago, he bought the intellectual rights to the phrase, “thre*peat.”[/ul]But nothing hard and fast. So:

Does he own the rights to the word?
When did he do it?
What are those rights called? (trademark, copyright etc.)
What use necessitates payment?
How much has he made?

Three- peat is trademarked for product usage, like t-shirts and hats.

That’s the extent. Anyone can use the word in convo, reporting, etc.

You can search trademarks on the USPTO website, and his company (Riles & Company, Inc.) does have the trademarks on various uses of “three-peat” and “three peat”.

In particular, for shirts, jackets, and hats, as well as for bumper stickers, decals, paper pennants, paperweights, posters, trading cards, non-metal key chains, plaques, collector plates, mugs and tankards.

I don’t think you can copyright a word, only that you can trademark a particular use of one. Which is what Riley did in this case. As long as you aren’t selling merchandise with it, you should be fine using the word.

An article on the subject

You cannot own a copyright in one word. You can hold trademark rights in a word, but such rights are limited.

First of all, you have to be using that word in commerce in connection with a product or service. If Pat Riley claims trademark rights in “Threepeat,” then it must be connected with some product or service he’s offering. He can’t just sit on this and say “I trademarked the word, so I get to say when people can use it.” (I’m not going to alter it, because there’s no way this kind of reference can be a trademark violation.)

You can’t stop people from using the word; you can’t even demand royalties just for use. The only use that you can control is a use in commerce that infringes on your trademark. There are a lot of factors that go into this, but, generally, an infringing use is a use in commerce that might cause confusion as to the origin of the goods.

For example, if Pat Riley writes a sports column titled “Threepeat,” then he can stop others from titling their sports columns “Threepeat.” But he can’t control its use otherwise.

A word that is trademark can become generic through use and the holder can lose his trademark rights.

I don’t know whether he has successfully trademarked the term. You’d have to check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It might be difficult to do so.

You can’t trademark a word for its ordinary meaning. In other words, if I sell sugar, then I can’t get a trademark on “Sugar” in connection with the sale of sugar. Similarly, I would think that it would be difficult for Riley to trademark “Threepeat” in connection with three consecutive sports championships, since that’s exactly what the word means in ordinary speech.

Go here and search for “three-peat”. You’ll see a bunch of entries like

“Riles & Company” sounds like a company someone named Riley would form.

Ah, that explains it. His trademark is related to the use of the term on clothing. He can’t stop you from using “three-peat” to mean “three-peat.”

Snopes also wrote about it.