Originally published by Chandler Stephens (US).
Hockey fans have eagerly awaited the unveiling of the NHL’s newest team, which is set to begin playing in Las Vegas in the 2017-2018 season. Last month, it was announced that the new franchise will be called the Vegas Golden Knights, to mostly positive reviews from fans and commentators. The name is an homage to team owner Bill Foley’s days at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), whose athletic teams are known as the Army Black Knights.
On December 7, 2016, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused trademark applications for “Vegas Golden Knights” based on likelihood of confusion (Lanham Act Section 2(d)) with a registration for the “Golden Knights The College Of Saint Rose.” The Examining Attorney found “Golden Knights” to be the dominant portion of both marks because it is the most distinctive element. The additional wording did nothing to change the overall commercial impression of the marks.
Comparing the goods and services offered under the two marks, the Examining Attorney found them to be related even though one team is professional and the other is collegiate. The Vegas Golden Knights sought to register their mark for entertainment services (professional ice hockey exhibitions) and a variety of clothing. The College of Saint Rose’s registration is for entertainment services (college sports exhibitions) and a variety of clothing. The Examining Attorney reasoned that college and professional sports share many characteristics and are often played for the entertainment of the same class of consumers, and are therefore related for likelihood of confusion purposes.
Sports fans and trademark experts alike have questioned the reasoning for the refusal, citing numerous cases of college and professional teams that share mascots seemingly without confusion. For example, the Boston Bruins in the NHL have the same mascot as the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA. While it’s certainly reasonable to think that confusion is possible between college and professional teams, sports fans appear to differentiate between the two without problem.
The Vegas Golden Knights plan to file a response arguing that their mark should be registered in co-existence with the “Golden Knights College of Saint Rose” registration. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is standing behind the team, stating, “We consider this a routine matter, and it is not our intention to reconsider the name or logo of this franchise.”
The College of Saint Rose is a small, private university in Albany, NY, which does not appear to have a hockey team at this point in time. It remains to be seen how the school plans to defend its trademark rights, or whether the parties will consider entering a co-existence agreement.
While the Vegas Golden Knights could eventually prevail over this refusal, it may not be the end of their trademark troubles. Last week, the U.S. Army announced that it has asked its legal team to provide an opinion on whether it should challenge the name “Golden Knights,” the name by which the U.S. Army Parachute Team has gone since the 1960s.
It hasn’t been smooth skating for the NHL’s newest franchise so far, but the Vegas Golden Knights are confident that they can solve any trademark issues before the team’s inaugural season begins next fall. Their new fans sure hope so!
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