Report: Nats name in middle of trademark dispute

The team without a home or owner might also not have a name.

According to a report in The New York Times on Tuesday, the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted a request for federal trademark registration on the name Washington Nationals to Bygone Sports last week. The Cincinnati-based company, which specializes in historic trademarks and sports apparel, applied for the trademark in September 2002.

According to the Times, Major League Baseball, aware of Bygone Sports' claim to the Washington Nationals name, thought it had reached an agreement with the company for the name's rights when the franchise was moved from Montreal in 2004.

"We believe we own the name and the rights," John McHale Jr., a baseball executive vice president, told the Times. "We struck a deal prior to the announcement with the people who claimed they owned the name, and we've been fighting to get that agreement enforced. They didn't live up to the agreement."

However, Roger Kaplan, an attorney for Bygone Sports, told the Times that although baseball contends an oral agreement was reached Nov. 12, 2004 -- 10 days before the team was renamed -- the sides had actually only reached a preliminary agreement.

"All the terms and conditions had not been fully discussed," he said.

Kaplan also contends that baseball and Bygone Sports had not put the agreement in writing and had agreed not to be bound by an agreement until it was in writing.

Both baseball and Bygone Sports sued, and the case landed in federal court, where it will be determined if there is an enforceable agreement. If the lawsuit goes forward, a trial is scheduled to begin April 3 -- the day the Nationals open their second season in Washington.

Neither baseball nor Bygone Sports dispute that the company raised its asking price for the rights from $130,000 to $1.5 million. Bygone Sports also asked for four tickets to the Nationals' opener last season and a $10,000 advertising credit on MLB.com.

"For two weeks after the team was named, Bygone was prepared to move forward on the original amount," Kaplan told the Times.

But negotiations collapsed, and both sides filed suit.

Baseball sued in June, claiming that although Bygone Sports had applied for the rights two years prior to the team's move, the company wanted to "turn a quick, undeserved profit" by seeking trademark registration rights. In its countersuit in July, Bygone Sports accused baseball of not researching the name to know that someone else had claimed it.

If the case proceeds and the judge rules for Bygone Sports, baseball would then have to decide whether to rename the team, because it would not be able to sell apparel and other paraphernalia with the Nationals name on it.

"You wouldn't be able to go to the ballpark and buy a shirt or cap with the team name on it," Kaplan told the Times.

"I think it's likely that we would change if we're not correct," McHale told the Times.