Oakland Teen Claims A's Stole His T-Shirt Design

There was at least one person from Oakland not "stOAKed" that the Oakland Athletics were in the playoffs.

That would be 16-year-old Ryan Frigo, who says the Major League Baseball team stole the phrase from his clothing company, according to the East Bay Express, which broke the story. #NotThatStoaked, was what he tweeted after the story ran.

Frigo has been selling T-shirts, hoodies, beanies and other items of clothing featuring the "stOAKed" brand -- intended, he said, to stoke civic pride in Oakland -- since 2012, he told NBC Bay Area in a Skype interview on Tuesday from Buenes Aires, where he is finishing high school online.

"I created this company to combat negative perceptions and promote Oakland in my freshman year at Oakland Tech," he said, adding that was two years ago. He was even featured in the Contra Costa Times when he was 15 as a young entrepreneur.

And yet somehow, that exact phrase ended up on the officially-licensed T-shirts sold by the A's to celebrate their playoff run. Ryan was tipped off to the A's new logo by a mentor. Have you seen this T-shirt?

"It was the exact word I created," he said. "I was shocked. That's how I know it wasn't a coincidence."

In an email to NBC Bay Area on Tuesday afternoon, Ken Pries, vice president of communications at the A's said "We are looking into this matter and have placed a call into Major League Baseball.  We will get back to you tomorrow."

Ryan said he has tried to contact the team and MLB but hasn't had luck. "I could reach no one that seemed to care the slightest bit."

Working against him is the fact that he is not the owner to the trademark for "stOAKed" -- another company has that intellectual property, the Express noted.

In 2013, he said he tried to register a trademark for "Stoaked," but said he couldn't because there was an existing "Stoked" trademark for a different entity. He has since re-applied, he told NBC Bay Area, but that paperwork is still pending.

Still, he said that, based on conversations he has since had with attorneys, he believes that he has "common law" trademark rights to "Stoaked" since he was the first person to use the word to represent Oakland by highlighting "Oak."

But Michael Dergosits, a trademark lawyer in San Francisco, told NBC Bay Area after reviewing the story, he thought the teen's case was legally weak. This type of T-shirt issue, he said, comes up a lot, citing Wal-Mart and Go Pro Ltd. cases to prove his point. In this case, Dergostis said the MLB and the A's are arguably not using the term as a trademark, but as an "ornamentation," just like Nike uses "Killing It."

Still, Dergosits added: "This is obviously not good publicity for the A's or Major League Baseball."

Ryan is Oakland-born and bred. He lives in the city's Redwood Heights district. He attended Tech and then Oakland School for the Arts before taking off for South America to finish his studies online. He said he loves the "global perspective" of Oakland, a diverse city that gives people a "taste of the world" even without traveling the globe.

As for the idea that copying is the highest form of compliment, Ryan said at first, he didn't see it that way.

"When I first saw it, I was very angry," he said. "But my mom kept reminding me it was a compliment. But they're using the word only for baseball. And I created it for a much deeper meaning."

NBC Bay Area's Gonzalo Rojas and freelancer Chris Roberts contributed to this report.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us