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Thursday, June 22, 2006
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Suffix, Sports, and the Law

ESPN's Darren Rovell has a very interesting piece on Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who hasn't owned his name, or the rights to his own signature, for the past three years. Instead, his stepmother Teresa controls those rights. This peculiar outcome results from assorted agreements, including mere handshakes, between the late Dale Sr. and Dale Jr., as well as between Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI, which represents Dale Sr.'s business interests) and JR Motorsports (Dale Jr.'s company for off-the-course business). It also results from Dale Sr. originally filing the trademark for Dale Jr.'s name, an act which Dale Jr. later consented to (and perhaps unknowingly). And when Dale Sr. died in 2001, the rights to Dale Jr.'s name were transferred to his Dale Sr.'s estate, the executor of which is Dale Jr.'s stepmom, Teresa.

But now Dale Jr. wants his name back, because he is apparently not getting a full cut on every product that bears his name. Doing so may be difficult, however: Teresa wants to keep Dale Jr.'s name because it raises the value of Dale Sr.'s estate, and legally she may have the upper-hand. According to J. Scott Evans, a Charlotte attorney who has registered trademarks for a number of drivers, "it's hard to revoke your consent once you've given it. If Dale Jr. has a problem with it now, that's between him and DEI."

Interestingly, this isn't the first time that a NASCAR driver has encountered a trademark issue with his name. Take Geoff Bodine's name plight:
Geoff Bodine, the NASCAR driver who had 570 starts from 1979 to 2004, says he didn't own his own name for a long time. In the '80s, according to Bodine, a man successfully trademarked his name without his consent, then tried to blackmail him. It's one of the reasons Bodine sometimes was referred to as Geoffrey.
There is a lot more to the story, including a discussion on how so many NASCAR drivers trademark their names. It is definitely worth checking out, as is Geoff's recent post on Charles Barkley's name trademark issues.

Update: Dale Jr. has reached an agreement with stepmom Teresa that gives him his name back. As my former civil procedure professor John Harrison would often say, you never like to see cases where the plaintiff and defendant share the same last name. It looks like we'll be avoiding that here.


1. What, exactly, is the benefit of getting federal trademark registration for your own name? Wouldn't using your name in commerce pretty much get you to the same place?

2. Can anyone actually trademark someone else's name, without that person's permission (e.g., the Bodine situation)? Of course if my name was Geoff Bodine I could trademark it, but that seems low risk for Bodine and Earnhardt. Mark Martin on the other hand...

3. Wouldn't misappropriation of likeness also solve the problem? Even if my name was Dale Earnhardt Jr., could I really sell NASCAR-style hats with Junior's name on it if little Dale hadn't federally registered his name as a trademark?

4. Can we envision a lawsuit by Dale Jr. against Dale Sr.'s estate for trademark infringement, if Dale Sr.'s estate markets products under the name "Dale Earnhardt" without the suffix? Or vice versa? Might cause confusion. What if Dale Jr. sold a sticker consisting of the name "Dale" with a halo over it?

Blogger ChapelHeel -- 6/23/2006 7:37 AM  

That's just bizarre. Please stay on it.

And I don't know that you do NASCAR too often, but I've been wondering about the story behind this:

Seems the uniform manufacturer Cintas is suing NASCAR while, oh yeah, being a sponsor. The CEO of Cintas owns part of the KY Speedway, and he wants a Nextel Cup for his track. Seems awful shady to me. And it's only going to change NASCAR more when it really needs to reach back to its history (Sprint Cup? are you kidding??).

Anonymous JeffGIG -- 6/23/2006 9:32 AM  

dale earnhrdt jr. and no. 8 has a lot history together.. i say he should be no.8.. i signed a petition at this link, help me out and tell everybody about this!

Blogger xabistuff -- 6/19/2007 3:17 PM  

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