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Ride the Super Bowl Coattails, Safe From Suits

But it isn't just "Super Bowl" and team names that are protected. Even slogans and catchphrases such as "cheesehead," meaning a Green Bay Packers fan, is a registered trademark, Pelton says.

Still, there is a difference between what would get businesses in actual legal trouble and what would get them in trouble based on the NFL guidelines, says trademark and entertainment attorney Ken Basin, of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger in Los Angeles.

The NFL aggressively sends out cease-and-desist letters if "Super Bowl" is used without permission in a commercial context, but retailers aren't necessarily in legal muck if they do use the term, Basin says.

Individuals and businesses are protected under the First Amendment in what's called "nominative fair use," in which a trademark is allowed to be used if it describes a phrase and lacks commercial intent, Basin says. For instance, an electronics store ad could suggest to customers that they "Come get your TV before the Super Bowl," because it is describing an event.

There are also creative ways small businesses can refer to, uh, that event on Sunday without using trademarks, experts say.

David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a publicity and marketing firm that works with small companies, says he often advises clients on how to maximize potential with big events such as the Super Bowl.

The trick, he says, is to come up with a clever play on words so consumers clearly understand that the ad is in relation to the Super Bowl -- but never use the exact terms.

Consumers seeing the word "super" in an advertisement will consider it a tie-in to the Super Bowl, for example, even though the business is not using the Super Bowl logo.

"It does work," Johnson says.

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