Protecting Concepts: The Best in Their Businesses Do BattleApril 5, 2018

Basketball superstar Lebron James has challenged perennial college football power Alabama over a sports talk show staged in a barbershop. During last year’s NBA finals, James’ multi-media business, Uninterrupted, premiered its show “The Shop” on ESPN featuring James and other professional players discussing basketball in a barbershop. Alabama recently promoted its show “Shop Talk,” which also is set in a barbershop and features head football coach Nick Saben and his former players talking about football. James claims that Alabama is infringing his intellectual property rights. 

While this matter is interesting because of the parties involved, absent some novel legal reasoning the merits do not appear overly complex. Generally, a concept is not protectable by patents or copyrights. Conception is the first step of invention, which also requires a reduction to practice before patent protection can be granted. Copyrights protect the tangible expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Whether the trademarks “The Shop” and “Shop Talk” are too close to one another depends on many facts, and whether there is a likelihood of confusion between these names. Trade secret protection does not apply, since the barbershop talk show is not a secret.

Currently, only a demand letter has been sent from James to the University, and no suit has been filed in court. How this dispute ultimately resolves is speculative, but the publicity that both parties will get from this matter is already building.

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