People in Orange County naturally took offense at the change. Although the City of Anaheim mounted a legal challenge based on its lease agreement with the Angels, that effort has thus far failed. I wonder, though, why the city didn't challenge the registration of the new mark. On what basis, you ask? On grounds that the mark is (deep breath) primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive.
Does that sound grim? It should. The Lanham Act (the federal statute that regulates trademarks, service marks, and the like) bars primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive marks from federal registration. 15 U.S.C. § 1052(e)(3) (2004). For a recent case applying that standard, see In Re California Innovations, Inc., 329 F.3d 1334 (Fed. Cir. 2003). The court there explained that, under § 1052(e)(3), registration must be denied to a mark
if (1) the primary significance of the mark is a generally known geographic location, (2) the consuming public is likely to believe the place identified by the mark indicates the origin of the goods bearing the mark, when in fact the goods do not come from that place, and (3) the misrepresentation was a material factor in the consumer's decision.
Id. at 1341.
Does Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim fail that test? That must remain a question of fact. Note, however, that the owners justified the change as a way to draw more viewers to Angels games. In other words, the owners deliberately chose the new mark as a ruse to fool the public into thinking that the Angels have more of a link to Los Angeles than the team really does. That would not look good in court.
Even if you don't think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive, the mark certainly looks suspect under § 1052(e)(2) of the Lanham Act. That provision bars marks that are primarily geographically descriptive from the primary register unless and until the applicant, by dint of using the mark in commerce for some time, can show that the mark has become distinctive by acquiring "secondary meaning." But the freshly-minted Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim mark cannot yet have seen enough use to qualify as distinctive. It thus for now remains at best merely descriptive of the origin of the baseball services in question, and thus not ready for the primary register.
In sum, even on the most forgiving account, it looks like Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim does not belong on the primary register. If primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive, the mark will never pass muster. If primarily geographically descriptive, the mark might at best someday qualify. I could go on, for there remain still other problems with the proposed name change. For now, though, I have to say that the Angels face a devilish trademark problem.