This post will come as no surprise to those of us super-interesting people that for some reason have made trademark law and news a key fulcrom point in our lives, but the United States Army has filed an opposition to the trademark application for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Some background is in order should you not be one of the roughly twelve of us in America that are hockey fans.
Starting around 2007, the United States Army went on something of a trademarking spree, filing for marks long in use, including some of the monikers for well known units and/or what I would call “show units”, or units that chiefly serve to be seen at entertainment venues such as air and water shows. Included in these marks were the Army’s “Black Knights” mascot for its military academy athletic teams and its Golden Knights paratrooping unit that performs at air and water shows all over the country. The army uses these trademarks to rake in millions of dollars in merchandise.
The Las Vegas Golden Knights is an NHL expansion hockey team started by a graduate of West Point, Bill Foley, who wanted the team’s garb and name to serve as an homage to his military roots. To that end, he had initially wanted to name the team “The Black Knights”, but switched to “The Golden Knights” after the Army voiced its displeasure. The color scheme for the team is a clear call back to the paratrooping team that shares the name.
It has been these clear admissions of homage that the Army has pointed to as an indication that this is obvious trademark infringement.
The Army also highlights public comments made by Golden Knights officials where they admit to trying to connect to the Army. For instance, last July, Golden Knights general manager George McPhee revealed to The Washington Post’s Aaron Torres that the Golden Knights’ color scheme of black, gold, yellow and white was intentionally selected for its similarity to a color scheme used by the Army at West Point. “Bill Foley is a West Point guy,” McPhee noted. “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.”
Except that none of that makes any of this trademark infringement. For trademark infringement to have occurred, there needs to be either real or a reasonable likelihood of confusion in the market. While the US Army does sponsor professional sports leagues, and while its paratrooping Golden Knights do put on a show, none of that puts them in the same commercial marketplace as a professional hockey team. And I will say, as an aside, the concept that the United States Army, defenders of the free world, with all of its storied history and tradition, has been reduced to an intellectual property fight over a respectful homage in the professional sports commerce battleground is just sort of gross.
For its part, while the Las Vegas Golden Knights have until late February to respond to the opposition, the team’s public statement on the matter doesn’t indicate that it will be surrendering to the Army any time soon.
“In the Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Army filed its opposition to the Vegas Golden Knights’ applications to register the trademark VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS used in connection with the sport of hockey. We strongly dispute the Army’s allegations that confusion is likely between the Army Golden Knights parachute team and the Vegas Golden Knights major-league hockey team. Indeed, the two entities have been coexisting without any issues for over a year (along with several other Golden Knights trademark owners) and we are not aware of a single complaint from anyone attending our games that they were expecting to see the parachute team and not a professional hockey game. That said, in light of the pending trademark opposition proceedings, we will have no further comment at this time and will address the Army’s opposition in the relevant legal forums.”
Unless the Army wishes to trivialize its reputation even further, hopefully this opposition will be the one and only pushback on the NHL team it will make.
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