Law360 (February 5, 2021, 7:32 PM EST) -- Pasadena, California, has been hit with a trademark infringement suit in California federal court from the organization behind the Rose Bowl football game, which alleges the city falsely asserts that it co-owns the Rose Bowl trademark and can bar the organization from hosting the game outside of Pasadena.
The complaint filed on Thursday is connected to the recent 2021 game that was played in Texas due to California's COVID-19 restrictions, with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association saying the city is attempting to assert rights to the game it does not have.
According to the lawsuit, the city claimed in a Jan. 7 letter that the nonprofit association cannot host the game outside of Pasadena without its consent, even in the case of a force majeure, and the city's mayor claimed in an interview with The New York Times in January that the city "shares a trademark on the name of the game" and that the game "belongs" to the city.
"Defendant has resorted to engaging in a public campaign that falsely conveys that it has an ownership interest in plaintiff's Rose Bowl Game and its associated intellectual property — effectively re-writing the [master license agreement's] express terms to the contrary," the association said. "Put simply, plaintiff will not tolerate this conduct — and neither should this court."
The college football Rose Bowl game is an annual tradition dating back over 100 years in Pasadena, along with its associated New Year's Day parade. The city and association have a number of agreements outlining their cooperation on the events, including a master license agreement, according to the association.
In 2021, however, the game took place outside of Pasadena for the first time since 1942. According to the suit, the College Football Playoff Committee invoked a force majeure under its agreement with the association, which resulted in the relocation of the Jan. 1 game to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
California forbade large public gatherings, including in-person fan and family attendance at the Rose Bowl game, and medical experts advised that travel to Southern California was not safe due to the high numbers of COVID-19 infections in the area, the association said.
According to the lawsuit, the city of Pasadena can terminate its master license agreement with the association if the annual game is played outside of Pasadena — except in the event of a force majeure preventing the game from being played there.
The association also argued that the MLA makes clear that the city does not own or share a series of Rose Bowl trademarks, and that the city has infringed them, including in an Instagram post.
The association seeks declaratory relief concerning its "exclusive ownership" of the Rose Bowl Game and Rose Bowl marks. The association also brings claims including trademark infringement, unfair competition, false association, false endorsement, false designation of origin, false advertising, breach of contract and slander of title under federal and California law.
The city said it is reviewing the lawsuit. The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The association is represented by John Nadolenco, A. John P. Mancini, Jonathan W. Thomas and C. Mitchell Hendy of Mayer Brown LLP.
Counsel information for the city was not immediately available.
The case is Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association v. City of Pasadena, case number 2:21-cv-01051, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
--Editing by Regan Estes.
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