Orange County – The NHL’s newest team – the Las Vegas Golden Knights – ran into legal trouble over its name less than a month after a big Vegas-style ceremony revealing the team name to the public. The trademark application that the team filed for its name was denied by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The refusal was due to an alleged likelihood of consumer confusion with a prior registered trademark. The name Golden Knights is already registered to the College of Saint Rose, a small private college in Albany, New York.
The USPTO Office Action claims that the NHL’s team shares the same name, a similar logo, and similarities in how the brands are marketed. While Saint Rose is a collegiate-level sports entity and lacks a hockey team, the school and the NHL team are both sports teams marketed to the same audiences in the same venues. The decision was made solely by the USPTO, with no input from the College of Saint Rose. The College of Saint Rose registered its trademark in 2004. The school has declined to comment on the legal issue.
Another potential player in the trademark conflict is the U.S. Army Parachute Teams, which have used the name Golden Knights since the 1960s. Their legal team is deciding whether to challenge the name.
The Las Vegas NHL team has until June 7, 2017 to file a response in its attempt to overcome the initial refusal. The team released a statement arguing that there are many examples of college sports teams and professional sports teams sharing the same name, such as the UCLA Bruins and Boston Bruins.
The NHL Deputy Commissioner said there are no plans to change the team’s name or logo, and that the NHL will give a response about why it strongly believes that the trademark should be registered. The team will continue to sell merchandise with the Vegas Golden Knights name and logo.
The team’s first game won’t occur until October 2017, but these legal issues could cause problems for the team now. The team is in the process of pursuing sponsorship deals, television rights, and building a fan base, all things the dispute can threaten. Without the trademark, the team may be limited in its ability to fight against unauthorized use of its trademark. Likewise its own use could still be challenged by a prior user.