Every year about this time, the NFL earns itself some bad press for busting some small bar or local group for using the word "Superbowl" rather than that catchy phrase "the big game on the first Sunday in February down in Miami." This year, the bad press honor goes to the NFL for shutting down a party at a church in Indianapolis for having a screen too large. (Hey NFL! I am breaking the law! I have a 110" front projection TV, twice the "legal" 55-inch limit, and I am showing the game on it at my party. HA HA HA!). And by the way, what lapdog legislator wrote this law for them, and did he get Superbowl tickets for life?
Now, I understand the situation with copyrights - if you don't defend them vigorously and even-handedly, you can lose them. I seem to remember Exxon or some other chemical company lost the rights tot he name Formica when they let it be used too generically for counter-top materials. And the NFL PR people use this defense every year, saying "we really don't want to shut down these folks, but we have to."
I don't agree that individual words should be copyrighted such that their use in a broad range of contexts should be illegal. I am fine saying that I can't create another peanut butter and call it "Jif." I will accept P&G has some sole right in this country to that use. However, I don't think P&G can tell me that I can't advertise a "Jif party" feature their peanut butter. In the same way, I am willing to grant the NFL exclusive use of "Superbowl" to describe a sporting event, but I don't think that should restrict me from advertising that people should come to my bar to watch the Superbowl. And just to add one more example so I have a "threepeat," I don't think Pat Riley should have any ownership in that word. However, since copyright law is not going to change tomorrow, I will offer up a more modest change.
So here is my suggestion. The NFL needs to offer a one time use license each year for a bar or other establishment to hold a Superbowl party and actually use Superbowl in the promotion. The license would of course be non-exclusive, and would carry a myriad of restrictions on how you use the name, etc. The license could be purchased for a price that would be cheap for a business, maybe $200, and could be purchased right over the web. It would actually be easier, I think, to go after violators because the NFL could point to the existence of a legal licensing program the violator could easily have participated in. I would think they could easily bring in a couple of million dollars, not to mention saving them enforcement money and PR headaches.
PS- Welcome to the NFL intellectual property department. I presume I included enough verboten uses of "Superbowl" to catch your search engine's attention.
PPS- My Firefox spell checker (which I love!) does not have "Superbowl" in it. I wonder, would the NFL consider it a copyright violation for a program to use the word "Superbowl" in its dictionary?