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A&M up in arms over Buffalo Bills fans’ ’12th Man’ petition

Texas Longhorns vs Texas A&M Aggies

Not surprisingly, Texas A&M is hyper-protective of its — trademarked, it should be noted — well-known “12th Man” phrase. The university has vigorously entered into numerous legal squabbles since the moniker was trademarked in the early nineties, including with a pair of NFL clubs: the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills.

A&M ultimately reached a licensing agreement — i.e. licensing fees — with both teams. The latter team, however, is in a roundabout way connected to the latest case of what the SEC program considers trademark infringement.

As you may or may not know, the Buffalo Bills are currently seeking a new owner and could (maybe, but hopefully not) be heading out of Western New York. In an effort to prevent the iconic local franchise from ditching the area, the co-founders of a website at one time titled “12thManThunder.com” — including a double amputee — started a campaign to raise awareness for their cause.

What they raised was the ire of A&M instead. From the Buffalo News:

One of targets is Charles “Chuckie” Sonntag, a double amputee and cancer survivor. He co-founded 12thManThunder.com website to keep the Bills in Buffalo. Texas A&M owns the rights to the term “the 12th man.” Sonntag, who overcame cancer last year, has suffered since childhood from polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, also known as Albright’s disease, He lost his left arm 20 years ago, and his left leg was amputated in March.

“My experience has proven two things: a handicapped person can accomplish just about anything – and Texas A&M will sue just about anybody,” Sonntag said.

The university, which has a $5 billion endowment, was notified by an attorney of Sonntag’s disabilities, but that hasn’t stopped it from playing hardball – and potentially threatening Sonntag, who lives on an $825-a-month Social Security check. Sonntag came up with the idea of starting the website to rally fan support to keep the Bills here after learning of Ralph Wilson’s death. His website associates are three friends: Charles Pellien, Anthony Lynch and Paul Roorda. Since the website was launched, more than 10,000 fans have signed a petition to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

The website has since changed its name to BillsFanThunder.com, but the university, through its attorneys, is still threatening legal action as it doesn’t feel the group has acted with the requisite expediency.

“They said stop using it immediately. I tried to but it takes time. I have one arm, also, so I’m working over my phone because I couldn’t afford the computer service that month,” Sonntag said. “We’ve tried to do it as quickly as possible, but it’s hard to change a group name on Facebook. It’s very time-consuming.”

An A&M spokesperson told the News that this issue has been ongoing for weeks and intimated that it needs to be resolved sooner or later… or else.

“We have been negotiating about a turnover date for several weeks. When it became apparent they would not make that change, we gave them a deadline of last Friday to respond. The domain name still needs to be transferred from their ownership. It is still redirecting to their website. Their use of social media is still in question.”

To that, Sonntag responded…

“I didn’t know they own the name, because I see it all over. It’s on the Bills Wall of Fame. Why would they single out a disabled man?”

When this latest 12th Man pissing match will ultimately be resolved is unclear. What is clear is that this likely won’t be the last time the Aggies, rightly, protect that phrase like you would a newborn.

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44 Responses to “A&M up in arms over Buffalo Bills fans’ ’12th Man’ petition”
  1. goodfieldnohit says: Jul 2, 2014 10:01 PM

    Do disabled men get some kind of special dispensation for trademark infringement?

    How about the other very able bodied men that are also being sued by A&M.

    JOHN TAYLOR, that’s a fucking hatchet job you just put on A&M.

  2. cfballfan1 says: Jul 2, 2014 10:30 PM

    Horsepucky. A&M apparently stands for a-holes & more to sue this guy. Trademark that jackasses.

  3. tngilmer says: Jul 2, 2014 10:44 PM

    Time to get over it, A&M

  4. jacksonm15 says: Jul 2, 2014 10:46 PM

    A&M has every right to sue. Either you sue or lose your trademark. Also, I don’t see what having a disability has to do with trademark infringement. Being a double amputee doesn’t make him above the law.

  5. thefiesty1 says: Jul 2, 2014 11:00 PM

    Pretty soon every one will have a 12th man and the government will cancel all trademark infringements like they did with the Redskins.

  6. rabbi187 says: Jul 2, 2014 11:00 PM

    I don’t think anybody is disputing the trademark. However, it’s one thing to to sell 12th man shirts and a completely different thing to have a website trying to keep Bills in NY that has since been taken down. The fact one of the owners is handicapped is irrelevant. If A&M is threatening to sue, this is truly petty and extremely pathetic.

  7. dg0122 says: Jul 2, 2014 11:37 PM

    Aggy getting butthurt over their little 12th man myth is comical. Why don’t they trademark the tooth fairy as well?

  8. Stephanie says: Jul 2, 2014 11:44 PM

    Nice headline, Taylor.

    Trademark infringement is what it is. He’s just one owner. If there are others who aren’t also without an arm, why can’t they do the extremely hard work of changing the Facebook name?

    The 12th Man has been a part of Texas A&M culture for nearly a century. That’s why the Seahawks and the Bills pay royalties to use the moniker.

  9. guinsrule says: Jul 3, 2014 12:26 AM

    12th Man? You are insulting your female fans. It should be 12th Person. Unless of course your women lean to the mannish side, then it’s OK.

  10. coachbeck says: Jul 3, 2014 3:22 AM

    A and M has to defend their trademark everytime. It is what if is. Stop making it sound like they are beating up crippled vets and eating children

  11. wolfman55h says: Jul 3, 2014 6:50 AM

    If the name Redskins gets changed and it will (sorry lil Danny Snyder) then the name Aggies should be changed as well. It offends all farmers– who pick their nose and dont wear shoes– just like A&M grads.

  12. swadehoo says: Jul 3, 2014 7:40 AM

    WESTERN New York

  13. sportsguy3434 says: Jul 3, 2014 8:32 AM

    They haven’t taken money they just want the name changed. It will work out but the website name needs to be changed. They aren’t kicking this guy on the street.

  14. flashdeath says: Jul 3, 2014 9:06 AM

    Another example of why the greed of college football and A and M in particular blows goats.

  15. rolltide510 says: Jul 3, 2014 10:20 AM

    Unfortunate about the guy’s disability, but using it to appeal for sympathy in a legal case is a bit much.

  16. seminolez says: Jul 3, 2014 10:35 AM

    intellectual property is an illogical boondoggle.

  17. dhardy8207 says: Jul 3, 2014 11:05 AM

    I could understand the issue with the Seahawks because they were using exactly the same catch phrase “12thman”. However this guy used “12thmanthunder.com”. I suppose it depends on each state’s copyright laws but I would think that if he can prove he’s going through the process to get it changed then should ATM decide to take it to court they stand to lose.

    Ridiculous that they dwell on spending the money it would take to sue this guy in lawyers fees to this extreme…

  18. sw19womble says: Jul 3, 2014 11:07 AM

    Protecting the trademark I totally understand. It’s the “too late buster, you didn’t move fast enough” demands for more grovelling and subservience that is totally unnecessary.

    A&M got what they wanted – the non-profit website changed its name. Now STFU and FO back to Texas.

    A good company (or its lawyers) will know how and when to get heavy, and when they’re only damaging their own brand.

  19. imaduffer says: Jul 3, 2014 11:07 AM

    If you need a 12th man, the 11 men on the field must suck.

  20. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 3, 2014 11:11 AM

    OMG you people are so blind….. A&M doesn’t want any money from this guy, in fact their deal with Seattle is a only a token deal in which they net $5k a year… $5k, I bet the CLink spends more than that on urinal cakes each game.

    But if A&M doesn’t defend the trademark EVERY time it’s challenged, they lose the trademark.

    A&M isn’t going to sue him anyway. It’s just threats to induce action.

    And if I started a online blog called NBCSportsontheWeb.com, you think NBC is going to ask me how many appendages or what disabilities I have before they send that Cease And Desist letter?

  21. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 3, 2014 11:19 AM

    @sw19womble

    The issue after he changed the name of the site was that they still owned the domain name and though the site name was changed, 12thmanthunder.com still took you to the site.

    If you really think that A&M and their lawyers really want this guy to grovel and be subservient to them then you’re either naïve or just a hater… A&M wishes this had never happened, this is horrible press, and they just want this to go away. But unfortunately, if they don’t display due diligence in defending the trademark then they set a precedent and open the trademark up to legal challenges.

    This is unfortunately a nobody wins situation.

  22. 1historian says: Jul 3, 2014 3:59 PM

    A&M – very classy. May you lose lots of games this season, by close scores and in the last 30 seconds of the game.

    They claim to ‘own’ the phrase 12thman? What kind of sense does that make?

    None

  23. maxkingpin says: Jul 3, 2014 4:27 PM

    I believe the patent office erred in granting exclusivity to TAMU. Other sports phrases that should be free for any include the 19th hole, 6th man, & next man up. I’m sure there are some others.
    Anyway my opinion has no effect on this issue. As current law stands, TAMU has the right to do what they are doing. The non-TAMU world is saddened by their actions though.

  24. mguittar2014 says: Jul 3, 2014 4:52 PM

    There were three Aggies huddled around each other at a local bar. All of a sudden, they jumped up and yelled,
    “Yeah, 45! 45!” The bartender goes down to them and asks, “45? What are you guys so excited about?”
    One of the Aggies speaks up: “We just finished a jigsaw puzzle. The box said 2 to 3 years, and we did it in 45 days!”

  25. mguittar2014 says: Jul 3, 2014 4:55 PM

    A lucky Aggie won the Texas Lottery. When he went to collect his money they told him he wouldn’t get it in one lump sum and that it would be spread over 20 years.
    The Aggie erupted and said, “If that’s the case, then give me my dollar back!”

  26. seahawkfan76 says: Jul 3, 2014 5:32 PM

    @imaduffer:……Its called “SUPPORTING” your team. And your little clueless statement is just plain ignorant, seeings how the “SEAHAWKS” won the SB!!!!!!!!!

  27. florida727 says: Jul 3, 2014 5:41 PM

    As cold as it sounds, the handicapped, double-amputee, thing is the least relevant part of the story. Hate to say it, but the law is the law. Period. Should have thought of it first. Should have checked with the government over the ability to use the phrase “12th man”. Sorry, dude, the phrase it taken and protected BY LAW. Come up with another catchphrase. Other fan bases came up with “the Black Hole” or the “Lion’s Den” or the “Hogettes”, whatever. Think of one yourself.

  28. jim9660 says: Jul 3, 2014 6:28 PM

    Texas, what do you expect? It isn’t like he is profiting from it.

  29. howthenfcwestwaswon says: Jul 3, 2014 6:58 PM

    TAM should worry more about the product they put on the field, not what they call their fans.

  30. genebulge says: Jul 3, 2014 7:43 PM

    I wonder if the fans at A&M ever did the wave at one of their ball games? That was started at the University of Washington Husky Stadium by Rob Weller who was a yell king when it started. Back in those days in the student seating area of the stadium there were different sections of different colors and the cheerleaders would start at one end and have them all stand up and yell and get crazy then the next section and so on. Over the course of the season fans outside of the student section would get into action and it took off around the stadium. It was started at Husky Stadium and they never had any objections to any other stadium or arena doing the same thing. Its not a ownership issue and neither is a term 12th man. I bet there were lots and lots of people all over the country and as of now all over the world that never heard about Texas A&M and the 12th man. The Seahawks made it a distinct advantage for the home town team. One last thing is that there are much louder college stadiums than A&M, one being LSU which I have been to and Husky Stadium has been a tough place for visitors to play in. Time to put on your big girl panties A&M and get over it.

  31. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 3, 2014 9:17 PM

    So because you started the wave and LSU has a louder stadium we should give up our trademark?

  32. capn0bvious says: Jul 4, 2014 1:02 AM

    The important takeaway here is that the Seahawks are going to repeat in February 2015.

  33. luggnutt2000 says: Jul 4, 2014 7:40 AM

    WOW, So many people taking shots at Texas, because of one school. Especially considering many of “Y’ALL” (Yes That Was Sarcasm) Can not seem to be able to spell.
    I actually see both sides of the incident. A&M has had that Moniker for since 1922, longer than most school, much less NFL Teams have existed, Where as, The gentleman wasn’t profiting from the use of it, or using in a way that would cause a negative view of it, or the school, So I think they are pushing the issue a bit to far.

  34. rrhess1529 says: Jul 4, 2014 9:14 AM

    This is my trade mark A&M U Suck…..

  35. jdillydawg says: Jul 5, 2014 4:55 PM

    How come no one has any originality to come up with a different slogan than 12th man?

    Seriously, any number will do, and it says the same thing. Or how about 12th “Player?” Done.

    Not that hard Seahawks, Bills, every other team scratching their head wondering how to solidify their brand using someone else’s trademark…

  36. doctorlb says: Jul 5, 2014 11:40 PM

    There sure are a lot of comments by people that obviously don’t understand anything about trademark law. When a phrase or word is trademarked, as “12th Man” is, no one can use it, or a variant of it, without the permission of the holder of the trademark.
    PERIOD.

  37. lawson1974 says: Jul 6, 2014 1:51 AM

    Is the guy making money off this website?

  38. florida727 says: Jul 6, 2014 9:31 AM

    I wonder if anyone that reads this will know the legal answer to this: does trademark infringement have to be tied to the offending party making money or a profit off of the trademarked phrase they use? I looked up the Wikipedia definition and there’s no mention of monetary gain being an ingredient in determining if a violation has occurred.

  39. luggnutt2000 says: Jul 6, 2014 10:01 AM

    Yea, I am pretty sure the “Fair Use Protection Act Does not apply to Texas A&M’s “Moniker”, unless they just wanted to make a news report about it, and criticize it. :)
    Course then it still would have to go to an “Arbitration Hearing”

  40. nmc1496 says: Jul 7, 2014 2:04 PM

    It’s absolutely ridiculous that they got to trademark this phrase. Think about how many years that they used it….(from 1923 to 1990) before that happened?!

    It is not the name of the school and should not be allowed to be “owned” by them. I can only assume that the trademark “powers that be” were A & M alums. (or do we need to consider Bush, Sr. as a catalyst for this ridiculous “right”)? Makes you wonder.

    Did the first person who said “pigskin” – “hardwood”, etc. get specific rights?

    It would be one thing IF it was the school name…or heck, even a mascot….but a phrase that was used by everybody, legally, PRIOR to 1990….should be exempt from being allowed to be a “trademarked” phrase.

    Disgusting.

  41. nmc1496 says: Jul 7, 2014 2:07 PM

    And the website was 12thmanthunder…..not even the “12th man”.

    BTW, I don’t see the OKC Thunder pitching a fit… hmmm….sure says something about A & M.

    BTW, round 2, how is that SEC working out for you? ha.

  42. nmc1496 says: Jul 7, 2014 2:17 PM

    I think that what the A & M fans on here aren’t understanding is this – you have had that phrase since 1923 (or 1922) BUT did not trademark it until 1990!

    So, since your school managed to get around to trademarking it about 70 years later, the rest of the world is supposed to roll over and not use it UNLESS you are paid?

    I get that it’s the law (and I would truly be interested in how that little thing got passed)….but it should NOT have been allowed to happen to a phrase that was commonly used by that time WHICH is not your school name…and is SO common that it can’t even really be tied to your school.

    BTW, nobody outside of your area even knew that you had it trademarked. I live in the adjoining state (and have seen it on your stadium), but since it is a common enough phrase, I wasn’t even aware that A & M had the “rights” to those words.

    Given the fact that Buffalo and Seattle were “allowed” to use the phrase (with monetary compensation), it is ridiculous to think that fans in Buffalo, NY would realize that people in their trademark office were A & M fans :)

    I am going to find out when Ralph Wilson put “12th Man” on the Wall of Fame and see if it was before the ludicrous “trademark”.

  43. nmc1496 says: Jul 7, 2014 2:20 PM

    Just checked – 12th Man was put on the Bills’ Wall of Fame in 1992….so I guess that Ralph HAD to pay for it.

    Ridiculous.

  44. 8to80texansblog says: Jul 9, 2014 10:31 AM

    nmc1496 says:
    Jul 7, 2014 2:07 PM

    BTW, round 2, how is that SEC working out for you? ha.
    _______________________________

    Not too bad actually…. Won a Heisman, top 5 end of season ranking, 2 bowl games, and have started to dominate our state in recruiting. Not to mention the financial windfall that the SEC and Johnny Football brought.

    You know, your argument isn’t really a complaint about A&M… it’s about Trademark law in general. The trademark office granted us the trademark of “12th Man” and put the burden of due diligence on us to protect it…. so that’s what we’re doing. I’m sorry that you think it’s too general a term to be trademarked… but the Trademark office disagrees… I’m sure the Wilson family would object if I opened a website call http://www.buffalobillsthunder.com, a website dedicated to the thunderous roar from bison hunter Buffalo Bill’s high powered rifles.

    It’s about protecting a brand. And if you know anything about brand management, a powerful brand can be the most valuable asset on your organization’s balance sheet. Justin Timberlake just paid $35mm for a severely damaged MySpace brand.

    This isn’t about A&M or the Buffalo Bills… it’s about trademark law. If your trademark gets challenged by Donald Trump or a cancer survivor in Buffalo, you have to defend the trademark or risk losing it.

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