The NBA Store tweeted a new shirt today that raised a few eyebrows in Sixersland.
Yes, that’s the official NBA merchandise store promoting their new Raise the Cat t-shirt, available through Fanatics Branded on the NBA Store website for $29.99. The description on the shirt reads, “This Fanatics Branded Raise the Cat Tri-Blend T-Shirt will be the purr-fect way to celebrate another victory for the Philadelphia 76ers! There will be no doubt about which basketball team you support when you’re wearing this paw-some shirt.”
The silly little thing Sixers fans do after the team wins that started because Ben Simmons posts photos of his adorable cats on social media has gone big time. The future is meow.
Only, the Sixers fan who started the the whole #RaiseTheCat phenomenon isn’t
feline feeling it. And he might start a Go Fund Me to hire a lawyer.
Dennis Grove was the first Sixers fan to raise his cat after a win, something that has caught on to the point that national news stories have been written about him and his cat. The Sixers even Raise the Cat during breaks in the action where fans on the arena’s big screen pretend to raise a digital cat. This is a real bona fide thing, and is started with a silly tweet of a dude holding up a cat next to photos of Simmons with one of his cats standing on his head.
“I’m trying to get something going here,” Grove said by phone Tuesday, “because I definitely want the term to be used for a good cause, and not just for a t-shirt.”
Grove has turned #RaiseTheCat into a cottage industry, creating his own website where he links to some of the more notable stories, while sharing information about local animal shelters where people can adopt cats. His Twitter bio says the proceeds from any shirt sales through RaiseTheCat.com will go to benefit PhillyPAWS.
“If it’s a t-shirt,” Grove said, “it better be for a good cause. I’ve been ‘guilt-tripping‘ a lot of people who have t-shirts so far into [donating], so now we have the big fish — the NBA — doing it, so this is a little weird to me.”
We reached out to the Sixers to see if the team receives any of the proceeds from sales of team merchandise on the NBA store’s website and, if so, if they plan to donate that money — or any money — to local animal hospitals or charities. At the point of this publication, the Sixers have yet to reply.
While Grove may have a solid claim to the intellectual property of Raise the Cat and #RaiseTheCat, another company — not the NBA, not the Sixers and not Fanatic Branded — filed a legal claim for the trademark.
The Upper Deck Company filed for the rights to own both Raise The Cat and #RaiseTheCat with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on January 26, 2017. Upper Deck has yet to produce any products with the term, but filed for the trademark to use on posters, magnets, trading cards, magnets, clothing, shoes, outerwear and “autographed and non-autographed memorabilia, namely basketballs, basketball hoops.”
We asked trademark attorney Daniel Bellizio (full disclosure: an old college friend, and a Knicks fan, for what it’s worth) who explained that trademark claims are category specific, but Grove may have a case if he can prove his usage predates the trademark filing. Having said that, it could take a while.
Grove may have to wait until the trademark office rules on Upper Deck’s claim to file an official opposition, which, per Bellizio, could take up to three or four months. And even then, from a legal standpoint, Grove may have trouble proving he has use the term in a branded sense, not just in an ornamental sense. In other words, putting the term on a shirt doesn’t give someone the right to a trademark, but branding the term in an official capacity would.
And that’s where social media comes in. Coining the phrase on Twitter should give Grove a timeline of first use, and clear rights from a branding standpoint, but a guy with a cat and a website could find it tough to go up against a corporation the size of the NBA or Upper Deck. At the very least, Bellizio said, “social media shaming goes a really long way.”
Upper Deck may have put in a claim, and the NBA may be selling shirts, but the internet can still help Grove get his wish.
“I would love to sit down and talk with the team,” Grove explained. He said he has reached out to enquire about working with the franchise on a way to turn Raise the Cat into something good for local charities. “I don’t care if ends up not working out, but I would love to talk with the Sixers about doing something.”