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'Absolutely nothing' new with Bills Mafia trademark developments

Posts circulating on social media about the Buffalo Bills trademarking "Bills Mafia." They did, in 2020.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills filed a trademark for "Bills Mafia." On Oct. 12, 2020. 

Why it became a topic of conversation on social media ahead of the Bills opener against the Rams on Sept. 8 remains a mystery. But the fact remains, it's old news. 

"Absolutely nothing [new] that I'm aware of," Del Reid said. 

ProFootball Talk published a story, that cited a Sports Business Journal report, about the trademark filing. 

2 On Your Side's partners at Buffalo Business First spoke with local attorney Les Greenbaum about the filing. 

When the Bills filed in 2020, they filed for two trademarks. One was a Bills Mafia logo and the second filing was a standard character mark that included Bills Mafia on a variety of merchandise. 

The trademark hasn't been finalized yet, but the PFT article mentions that the Bills could go after anyone using the term to make their own merchandise. 

"A couple of years ago, when the Billa moved to trademark that term, it didn't really faze us at all because we weren't using that on any kind of commercial product or anything," said Reid, who also cofounded 26Shirts. "We have a great relationship with the team."

One intellectual property attorney 2 On Your Side spoke to said it's unlikely, for now, that the Bills will be going after anyone adding "mafia" to their merch.

"Only the Bills can use the trademark Bills, or Buffalo Bills on goods and services," said Peter Perkowski, an intellectual property attorney in California. "But there is a principle in the trademark law that allows one to use a trademark that is called Fair Use and anybody can do that."

Perkowski says that the scenario where someone could find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit is if they make merchandise as if they were the Bills, in an official capacity. 

"When you hold yourself out to be sort of affiliated with the trademark owner or as a sponsored endorsement, that's when you get into serious legal issues," Perkowski said. "Not just flying a flag outside your house."

The NFL and its teams regularly go after large, organized, counterfeit merchandise operations.

"That's actually helpful to the bills mafia community, having the kind of the weight of the bills behind them in terms of sort of policing, the use of this trademark, not against the fans, but against true counterfeiters," Perkowski said. 

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