Protecting the Plate
Phillies fan Mary L. Kevlin safeguards Yankees, Mets and MLB IP
Published in 2019 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine on October 2, 2019
Yankees and Mets fans: You may not like it, but your teams are currently being protected by a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the last 22 years, when Major League Baseball has needed a firm to handle its outside trademark prosecution, it has called on Mary L. Kevlin to marshal the IP resources of her firm, Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman. It’s no small task. With hundreds of trademarks on a panoply of apparel, video games and equipment, MLB trademark registrations number approximately 10,000 worldwide. Policing all of this takes time, work and a good team.
Last fall, for example, the firm succeeded in canceling the application of a small company’s registration of a “Major League Zombie Hunter” T-shirt, showing, against a red-and-blue background, the white silhouette of a man wearing a backward-facing ball cap aiming a shotgun—an obvious play on MLB’s logo. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the registration, and sustained the cancellation after the matter went to trial.
“She carries a certain authority with her, but speaks with patience and in very soft tones,” says Ethan Orlinsky, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president of legal, business and club affairs. “Though one needs to respect what she has to say, and would naturally defer to her opinion, she regularly engages in meaningful exchanges, soliciting input from even those who know much less than she.”
Certain trademarked team names obviously connote more than just the team (Angels, Pirates, Giants, Twins, etc.), but other common catchphrases are fiercely defended. Off the top of her head, Kevlin recalls thwarting three Yankees-related marks: The House That Juice Built, Baby Bombers and Baseball’s Evil Empire.
Not bad for someone who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, attends an occasional Yankees or Mets game, but whose first baseball loyalty is with the Phillies.
Colleagues single out Kevlin’s implacable disposition. “I have never seen her in 11 years get angry,” says Ellen Horowitz Dale, general counsel for The Promotion in Motion Companies, manufacturer of candies and confections such as Welch’s Fruit Snacks, whom Kevlin helped successfully defend a years-long trademark infringement and dilution case.
“I remember her as someone who I just wanted to do well for,” adds Jane Shih, a onetime Cowan associate who is now deputy general counsel for Cowan client Endurance International Group. “She would bring out the best in me, because I knew what her expectations were.”
Kevlin has long co-authored the widely used Trademark and Unfair Competition Law casebook, and for many years taught beginning and advanced trademark practice classes at NYU School of Law.
“I like to teach,” Kevlin says. “Working with associates, seeing them grow professionally, is one of the biggest satisfactions of my life.”
Law was actually Kevlin’s second career choice. After getting a postgraduate degree at Oxford in medical sociology, she did research at the University of London (her area of research was, she says, “the social factors that are involved in depression in women”), where she also taught. But she needed more variety. In the academic world, she says, “five years later, you’re doing the same research, whereas in law, new things come up all the time.”
She got her first taste of IP law while clerking for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when Apple v. Whelan landed on the docket. “It was the first case that had gone up to any court of appeals involving the copyrightability of object code. My judge was very fascinated with it, and I happened to be the lucky law clerk who got to work on the case. So I learned a tremendous amount just in working on that—this was in 1982.
“I think the facts are fun,” she adds. “You’re dealing with music, copyrighted software, books, every kind of industry you can imagine … the kind of thing you enjoy talking about, and doing and seeing. Every IP lawyer you’ve ever met will have all kinds of tchotchkes in their office of things they’ve done that are fun.” Among her tchotchkes: a can of Play-Doh, a Bubbling Santa and an MC Hammer music case.
Handel, With Care
Kevlin’s great extracurricular passion is singing with the Oratorio Society of New York, which puts on four programs a year, including its 146-year tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. It also performs around the world. She has fond memories of singing at St. Peter’s in the Vatican. “It’s a wonderful stress reliever,” she says. “Everything else goes out of your mind, and you’re focusing on staying with each other.”