A Las Vegas apparel maker has applied to trademark “Big Truss,” the Ravens’ unofficial team motto this season — setting the stage for a potential legal challenge by the NFL and even, in theory, by star running back Mark Ingram II, who coined the phrase.
Lance Roehl, who applied for the trademark Dec. 13, said he is a Ravens fan who hopes to partner either with the team or an apparel company with an NFL licensing agreement to get the Ravens logo on his T-shirts and sweatshirts. Roehl said Sunday that he plans to donate 5% of any “Big Truss” sales proceeds to the Ravens Foundation, which contributes financial support and player appearances to Baltimore-area nonprofit organizations.
“I’m open to partnering if people would like to work together,” Roehl said in a phone interview. “I’m not trying to be difficult or create a problem, but there’s a purpose for this [trademark]. ... I’ve applied for this, and I will do what I need to do to protect it.”
But acquiring a trademark generally takes about six to nine months, and legal experts said they expected the Ravens or the NFL to challenge the application based on Ingram’s and the team’s well-known use of the phrase.
The Ravens issued a terse statement in response to an inquiry by The Baltimore Sun.
“We are aware that people not associated with the Ravens are trying to capitalize on a saying developed by Ravens players,” team spokesman Patrick Gleason said in an email.
Roehl said in response: “That’s their viewpoint, and I have mine.”
Breaking T, a separate clothing line, whose “Mark Ingram Collection” is officially licensed and promoted on the running back’s Instagram account, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.
The Ravens’ response suggests the team or the league will challenge Roehl’s trademark application, said Ned T. Himmelrich, head of the technology and intellectual property team at Gordon Feinblatt LLC in Baltimore.
“It shows that the Ravens believe he has no rights to use the phrase," he said.
Roehl, a San Francisco native, said he became a fan of Jim Harbaugh’s when the former Ravens quarterback coached at Stanford and subsequently latched onto his brother, John’s, “tough, physical” Ravens teams of the past few years.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson, the league’s presumptive Most Valuable Player, is “changing the way the position’s being played,” Roehl said, and this season’s Ravens team has generated “Big Truss” buzz and unified Baltimore fandom across the country.
“Big Truss is about trusting your brother. Having someone’s back. Love," Roehl said in an email. "Thought some product could be made that the Baltimore community would take pride in and would further bring them together.”
The clothing line, which is already selling “Big Truss” items online, is Roehl’s third foray into sports apparel.
A former professional basketball player in Europe, he launched his first line, “Game 7,” promoting team play and hard work, in 2000 and later sold it, he said.
His second line, “Lady Ballers,” began in 2013, he said, and includes hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts with the slogan “Heart Conquers All.” As with Big Truss, 5% of the “Lady Ballers” proceeds go to a nonprofit, Girls on the Run, which offers sports camps and other confidence-building programs for girls.
“I want to turn this into something positive," he said of the “Big Truss” line.
The T-shirts and sweatshirts come in white, black and purple with Ingram’s No. 21 and Jackson’s No. 8.
Roehl said he’s intentionally keeping the design generic and free of any NFL logos to avoid infringing on league trademarks.
But he still might face a cease-and-desist letter from the fiercely brand-protective league, which sent one to Columbia-based Hysteria Brewing Co. last month for using Jackson’s likeness — a football player in a purple No. 8 jersey carrying a beer hop like a football — on the can of its new “#MVP” India pale ale. The brewery said it still planned to sell the beer but would redesign the label.
In addition to sending Roehl a letter, NFL attorneys will likely contact the federal trademark office “to let them know that these people don’t have any rights to that trademark," said Cynthia Blake Sanders, a copyright, media and entertainment attorney at Baker Donelson in Baltimore.
“It’s just like the beer, honestly,” Sanders said. "They’re using their rights of publicity, not for the Ravens, but to endorse their own products.”
Even if the league took no action, the trademark application would most likely be rejected, she said, because “it’s a phrase that’s used by the Ravens."
While the NFL is more likely than Ingram to raise legal challenges, the running back could have an argument for a common-law trademark on “Big Truss,” Sanders said.
“If he was already using that as a brand — he’s a famous figure — it doesn’t matter whether he has a trademark registration," Sanders said. “Essentially, it’s becoming part of his persona.”
Himmelrich pointed out the slew of unofficial, purple-and-black, Ravens and “Big Truss” T-shirts for sale online and noted that by the time the outcome of Roehl’s trademark application is decided, this season’s NFL playoffs and Super Bowl will be long over.
“It is the time of year,” he said, “when T-shirt makers come as close to the line as they can to profit from the team’s success.”
Colin Campbell is a breaking news and transportation reporter at The Sun, where he has worked since 2013. He shared in The Sun staff's recognition as Pulitzer Prize finalist for breaking news for the paper's coverage of the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing unrest. He is a Catonsville native and a University of South Carolina alumnus.