A tale of two Brooklyn Half Marathons: New York Road Runners sues NYCRuns for ‘misleading consumers’

Brooklyn Half Marathon
Runners finish the 2023 RBC Brooklyn Half Marathon in Coney Island.
File photo by Erica Price

On Sunday, April 28, over 21,000 runners filled the streets during the Brooklyn Half Marathon, a 13.1 mile race through some of the borough’s most iconic locations.

And, on May 18, more than 25,000 people will fill the streets for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, a 13.1 mile race through some of the borough’s most iconic locations.

The difference? The April race, officially called the NYCRUNS Brooklyn Half Marathon, is hosted by the Brooklyn-based running organization NYCRuns. The May event — the RBC Brooklyn Half — is hosted by the New York Road Runners, which is best known for the hosting the annual TCS New York City Marathon.

people running in NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon
People running in the 2024 NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon. Photo courtesy of Jessie Alcheh/NYCRuns

Both events are commonly referred to as “the Brooklyn Half Marathon,” and the similar names have caused confusion among runners — at least according to Road Runners, which filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against NYCRuns in federal court in February.

In the suit, Road Runners accused NYCRuns of “misleading consumers” by using the name Brooklyn Half Marathon, which Road Runners trademarked in the 1980s. NYCRuns launched its Brooklyn Marathon in Prospect Park in 2011, according to the organization’s website, and the half marathon in 2018. 

The full marathon was discontinued after the 2023 race — leaving only the NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon. 

Per court filings, Road Runners alleged that NYCRuns named their race similarly to the Road Runners event “with the intent to confuse consumers and capitalize on the enormous goodwill” associated with Road Runners’ Brooklyn Half Marathon. 

runners pose brooklyn half
Runners pose with their medals after the 2023 RBC Brooklyn Half Marathon. File photo by Erica Price

Some runners have registered for the NYCRuns event thinking they were signing up for the Road Runners race, the lawsuit states, or have even signed up to volunteer for the wrong race. 

That’s particularly problematic because volunteers at the Road Runners Brooklyn Half are guaranteed entry for the race the following year, and many runners participate in Road Runners’ 9+1 program, to earn entry for the TCS New York City Marathon.

In a February Reddit thread about the lawsuit, several runners shared that they or their loved ones had accidentally registered for the wrong race due to the near-identical names.

On April 26, the news site Gothamist mistakenly used a photo of the RBC Brooklyn Half finish line in a story about the NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon. Though the photo was quickly swapped out and a correction added, several readers commented on the mixup, noting “this is why [Road Runners] is suing NYCRuns.” Brooklyn Paper itself made a similar mistake in 2021, when it used a photo of the Road Runners event in a story about the RunNYC Brooklyn Half (that photo has since also been swapped out.)

gothamist marathon tweet
Gothamist mistakenly used a photo of the NYRR Brooklyn Half finish line in a story about the NYCRuns event. Screenshot via X

In the suit, Road Runners asked the court to force NYCRuns to stop using the trademarked Brooklyn Half branding, and to instruct the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to deny NYC Runs’ 2021 application to trademark “Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon.” 

“The real goal here, and the goal for our client, is to make sure that the confusion that we’re seeing stops,” said Kimberly M. Maynard, who is representing Road Runners in court. “Having people sign up for the wrong race, or volunteer for one race thinking that will get them credit to get a position at the next race. The expectation, and normally the way these things are resolved, is through a total name change.” 

NYCRuns declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

In its response to Road Runners’ filing, the organization denied the accusations of co-opting the Brooklyn Half name and of violating trademark law, specifically stating in court documents that it “denies the allegations … that it is infringing any trademarks owned by NYRR and that it needed authorization from NYRR to use the NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon or Brooklyn Marathon & Half Marathon marks.”

brooklyn half marathon
Runners at the finish line of the 2022 NYCRuns Brooklyn Half Marathon. File photo by Jennifer Pottheiser

The two organizations previously tried to come to an agreement out of court, the documents show, after Road Runners reached out to NYCRuns in February 2023. Those negotiations “haven’t been fruitful,” Maynard said, which prompted Road Runners to file suit. 

In court documents, NYCRuns alleged Road Runners did not have sufficient claims to enforce their trademark or have NYCRuns’ trademark application denied, and said “NYRR’s Brooklyn Half Marks are weak and unenforceable with respect to the conduct of NYCRuns.” 

Discovery is expected to be completed in September, per court documents, and the parties have until February 2025 to move to dismiss or settle the case. If no agreement is reached by then, it may head to trial.