This week, ESPN reported that the “United States Army filed a challenge with the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board on Wednesday, saying the Vegas Golden Knights’ name is associated with the military branch.”
The filing, which can be read in full here, begins by stating that the “Department of the Army (“Opposer”), an agency of the United States Government … believes it will be damaged by registration of the mark Las Vegas Golden Knights.”
For those of you who need some context, the Las Vegas Golden Knights are a team in the NHL which was recently established. Their logo consists of vintage looking military headgear with a color scheme of black, gold, and gray (though their jerseys also consists of a sliver of red).
So what exactly is the problem?
Well, “since at least 1969,” the army has maintained, and continues to use, a trademark under the name Golden Knights. The army’s mark is in connection with its parachute team, which is known as the Golden Knights, and public relations/recruiting materials which utilize a nearly identical color pattern as the Las Vegas hockey team.
The army’s challenge states that the NHL team “has not claimed any colors for use with the mark in [their] application,” and that the army “has acquired exclusive rights in the mark that predates any rights upon which [the NHL team] may rely” because of its “longstanding, widespread, and continuous use of its mark.”
What makes this case particularly interesting is that the majority owner of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, Bill Foley, graduated from the US Military Academy in 1967. While Foley has publicly written that the “development and use of the name Vegas Golden Knights was based upon Nevada being the largest gold producing state in the country and the golden tones of the Las Vegas strip,” there are just a few problems with that line of defense.
First, that statement may explain why Foley decided to use the term golden, but it does not explain his determination to use the term knights. In fact, Foley was arguably more passionate about using the word knights in his team’s branding, as he reportedly filed trademarks for not only the “Golden Knights,” but also the “Silver Knights,” and the “Desert Knights.”
Second, Foley’s statement was published after it became widely known that the military was actively looking into Foley’s team.
Third, Foley’s defense does not explain why he did not wait for approval from his alma matter, but he did clear the use of the name with Clarkson University, a small school in Potsdam, New York, whose sports teams are referred to as the Golden Knights. This decision is highly questionable, given the fact that the uniforms worn by Clarkson’s hockey team look nothing like the Las Vegas team’s jerseys, yet the army’s use of its trademark incorporates nearly identical colors to Foley’s team.
Lastly, previous statements from the hockey team’s General Manager, George McPhee, which were made at the time of the hockey team’s big reveal of their uniforms, contradict Foley’s statement. At the time, The Washington Post reported that McPhee stated the following when asked about the team’s color scheme:
Bill Foley is a West Point guy, sort of using those colors,” Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee said. “You know his history at West Point. You know about the classmates he had that he lost serving this country. So, those colors mean a lot to us, and will mean a lot to our players. And we’re really proud of the logo. It’s clean, it’s symmetrical, it’s kind of bold, and again it stands for something.
No mention of Nevada’s gold production was reported on in that article.
Likelihood of success?
While the impetuses behind the decision making of the hockey team’s top personnel can easily be called into question on this matter, the damages cited by the military seem pretty far fetched in certain portions of their filing.
Page 7 contains the following, relatively weak, challenges that the military claims it will be burdened with if the Las Vegas Gold Knights continue on as their are currently:
If [the hockey team] is allowed to register exclusive rights in Las Vegas Golden Knights in connection with entertainment services, namely, professional ice hockey exhibition services, the public is likely to be confused as to whether the U.S. Government or the [hockey team] controls the quality and nature of the services or endorses or sponsors [the hockey team’s] services
[The army] believes it will be damaged by the registration of [the hockey team’s] proposed mark because it so resembles [the army’s] mark as to be likely to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive consumers, with consequent injury to [the army] and the public.
[The army] believes it will be damaged by the registration of [the hockey team’s] mark because it so resembles [the army’s] Golden Knights as to falsely suggest a connection between [the hockey team and the army] or between [the hockey team’s] services and [the army’s] services, with consequent injury to [the army] and the public.
I think it is safe to say that nobody in America believes that Marc-Andre Fleury is an agent of the US Government; and it’s probably also a fairly reasonable belief to think that those who buy NHL stamped tickets are not under the impression that they are going to see the army’s parachute team perform at the T-Mobile arena against the Edmonton Oilers.
That being said, the Las Vegas team did reportedly register and use the mark “without the consent, authorization, license, or permission of the army” (as stated in point 22), and the team’s use of the mark may likely lead to the dilution of “the distinctive quality of [the army’s] famous Golden Knights mark” (as stated in point 25).
However, I find it hard to believe that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will force the NHL’s latest expansion team to entirely rebrand itself based on the evidence provided in this challenge.
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