Rose Bowl Organizer Drops Slander Claim in Trademark Spat With Pasadena

The organizers of the famed football tournament sought a federal court ruling clarifying that the Southern California host city held no rights to the Rose Bowl trade name.

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. (By Ted Eytan from Wikipedia via Courthouse News)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association sued its Southern California host city last month over a dispute on ownership of the Rose Bowl trade name. Now, the tournament organizer has dropped an accusation of slander from the broader suit.

The Rose Bowl is the nation’s oldest college football tournament and one its most celebrated and storied sporting events. 

Pasadena, California — a city on the northeast edge of the Los Angeles area — has hosted the tournament for nearly 100 years at the iconic Rose Bowl Stadium.

The tournament organizer announced last year that as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 New Year Day game between Alabama and Notre Dame would be played in Arlington, Texas. 

The decision sparked backlash from Pasadena officials, including the city’s newly elected Mayor Victor Gordo who was quoted in a Jan. 1 New York Times article saying the city shared ownership rights over the Rose Bowl name and that the tournament “belongs” to the city.

The city claimed the Rose Bowl tournament is required to be held in Pasadena under its contract with the association and that a location switch is only allowed as a result of “force majeure” events such as the onset of World War II, which triggered a venue change.

The Tournament of Roses Association denounced the city’s statements and filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California asserting its exclusive trademark registration for the “Rose Bowl Game.”

Among the association’s claims was a slander of title cause of action sparked by Pasadena officials’ statements in the news media that the city shares ownership of the Rose Bowl trade name.

Attorneys for both parties engaged in discussions following the New Year’s Day game but were unable to resolve the dispute over trademark ownership.

Recent developments, however, showed the association and the city saw eye-to-eye on at least one issue.

In an amended complaint filed Tuesday, the tournament organizer said that as a result of its legal pressure, the city has now relinquished its claim of ownership of the Rose Bowl trade name and intellectual property.

“Only as a result of this litigation has the city recently acknowledged in its filings with this court the unambiguous and objective truth: The trademarks at issue belong to the Tournament and the Tournament alone,” the association said in a court brief.

Following the filing of the amended complaint, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. issued an in-chambers ruling Wednesday denying the city’s special motion to strike the claim as moot and vacating a April 23 hearing on the motion.

Attorneys for both parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In a court brief filed Tuesday, attorneys for the association said it was obligated to assert its rights in this matter and that Pasadena has no power to veto relocation of the tournament in the future.

“As the sole owner of the registered trademarks associated with the Rose Bowl Game (and the owner of the Rose Bowl marks when used in connection with that athletic event), the Tournament has a paramount interest in ensuring that it retains the exclusive right to exploit its intellectual property,” the brief stated. “That interest includes dispelling any false claims of ownership interests that would interfere with the Tournament’s ability to control the exploitation of those marks.”

The association’s remaining claims include allegations of trademark infringement, false association, false advertising and breach of contract.

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