Florida man to trademark 'Dunk City'

Updated: March 29, 2013, 4:51 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

A music producer who lives in the town where Florida Gulf Coast University is located has filed for a trademark for the term "Dunk City."

Charlie Pennachio, of Fort Myers, Fla., filed papers with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office on Monday, just a day after the FGCU men's basketball team defeated San Diego State 81-71 to become the first No. 15 seed in tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16.

Pennachio told ESPN.com that his son goes to the school and he was encouraged to make the business move by one of his clients, local rock personality Tripp Tribbett, who, among other things, appeared on a VH1 reality show.

"It's a real phenomenon what's going on in Fort Myers," Pennachio said. "We want to start a company, and doing something associated with basketball seemed like a perfect opportunity. We know the university is using it now, but we want to take it to a different kind of level."

The school has licensed merchandise with its logo and "Dunk City" on it that has been selling at local retailers, but the school itself has not yet made a formal claim to the mark.

That could soon happen, given the stance the school is taking on the phrase.

"Our position is that 'Dunk City' is inextricably linked with FGCU," said Michael Van Wieren, general counsel of Licensing Resource Group, the firm that controls the FGCU's licensing program. "Had it not been for FGCU, 'Dunk City' would not have achieved its fame or notoriety."

Filing for intent to use a trademark, as Pennachio has done, isn't good enough to establish a legal claim to it. A registrant must also show first use in interstate commerce. Although FGCU hasn't filed for the trademark, the school does believe it has the sole right to use the mark, and recent interaction with both authorized and unauthorized retailers can help prove a first use in commerce claim should the school eventually file for a trademark, Van Wieren said.

"Third parties interested in making gear have reached out to us, recognizing that FGCU is the owner of 'Dunk City,'" Van Wieren said.

Van Wieren also said that he has sent out cease and desist letters, on the school's behalf, to people using "Dunk City," and some have even agreed to give the school back royalties for their infringement.

The school has further attached its brand to "Dunk City" this week by making 1,600 novelty IDs for students with the university logo and "Dunk City" on it. The IDs are free, but the school is encouraging students to make a donation to a food bank in exchange for the item.

The "Dunk City" phrase is also featured on a splash page that comes up for anyone typing in the school's website.

So far this month, the school said it has sold more than $200,000 in merchandise, compared to roughly $20,000 last March. Data from Fanatics, one of the largest online sports retailers in the country, shows that over the past five days, FGCU is the best-selling school on its website, with items shipped to more than 40 states.

The nickname comes from FGCU's high-paced, high-flying offense that has yielded 144 dunks this season. But according to the local paper, the Naples Daily News, the nickname only emerged after last Thursday's defeat against Georgetown.

"Someone in the media came up with 'Dunk City,'" Sherwood Brown, one of the team's stars, told the paper. "We heard about it and just ran with it."

Pennachio said he is not worried about an impending battle with the school.

"I'm just rooting for the team right now," Pennachio said. "At the end of the day this will all work out."

The school plays the University of Florida on Friday night for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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