Saying the complaint has been essentially rendered moot, a federal judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed against the city of Pasadena by the Tournament of Roses Association over rights to the name and trademarks for the Rose Bowl Game.
The Tournament of Roses Association filed suit in February against the city for alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition, false association, slander and false advertising.
The association contended it has full ownership of the “Rose Bowl” and “Rose Bowl Game” trademarks, while the city alleges the Tournament of Roses agreed by contract to limit its use of those trademarks without the express consent of the city.
According to the association, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. dismissed the case because there is no longer any dispute over “who actually owns the Rose Bowl Game.” The city conceded during the litigation that trademark was owned solely by the association, rendering much of the case moot, according to the association.
The city of Pasadena, however, in a statement said that “claims that the City of Pasadena misused or misappropriated the Tournament’s trademarks related to the Rose Bowl Game and that Mayor Victor Gordo engaged in ‘false advertising’ in comments to the media, have now been proven to be ill-conceived and full of egregious assertions.”
In his ruling, the judge wrote that: “Plaintiff [the Tournament] and Defendant [the City] have been business partners for decades. Due to this mutually beneficial relationship, Plaintiff has consistently benefitted from Defendant’s promotion of Plaintiff’s game and its history and likely encourages such promotion. As discussed in oral argument, that this claim is being brought now is puzzling to the Court and it is clear that this claim [of trademark/unfair competition] is not the crux of the parties’ conflict.”
The judge did not decide on issues relating to the rights of the Tournament of Roses Association to relocate the game in the event of an emergency. The judge noted that since there is no current effort to relocate the game, there was no need to rule on the matter.
“When you consider all those factors, we believe the suit achieved its most important purposes,” Tournament of Roses CEO David Eads said in a statement. “Our ownership of the Rose Bowl trademarks has been confirmed, and we retain the ability to enforce our rights under the ‘force majeure’ provision if necessary.”
Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo had a different take.
“This lawsuit should have never been filed in the first place,” said Gordo. “The City of Pasadena has been a tremendous partner to the Tournament, and it is appalling that the Tournament took such a significant step over nothing. We are pleased that the judge wasted little time in dismissing the claims made entirely.”
Questions about trademark ownership and rights to the game escalated when restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the Jan. 1, 2021, Rose Parade and barred fans from attending the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena. The game was ultimately moved to Arlington, Texas, marking the first time since 1942 the Rose Bowl game was played outside of Pasadena.
The Los Angeles federal court lawsuit states that the tournament association invoked the “force majeure” clause of its contract, maintaining that the pandemic was out of its control, so the association had the right to move the game out of Pasadena to AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The city now plans to request an award that the Tournament of Roses Association reimburse taxpayers for the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” incurred in its legal defense.
“Despite all of the legal wrangling, it is my sincere hope that now we can collectively return our focus to New Year’s Day, with an iconic parade and a game that puts Pasadena in the world’s spotlight once again,” said Gordo. “The Rose Bowl Game is a part of the fabric of Pasadena. As Judge Birotte Jr. recognized in his judgment: ‘The Court agrees with [the City] that [the Tournament] cannot reasonably dispute that, separate and apart from intellectual property ownership, the heart and soul of the Rose Bowl Game belongs to the people of Pasadena.’”
Originally published July 13, 2021 at 10:47 p.m. / Updated July 15, 2021 with statements from City of Pasadena officials