Oh the saga that is the naming of the National Hockey League’s shiny new Vegas Golden Knights team refuses to end.
Speaking of refusing…
The trademark filing of the name and some of the logos has been refused by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, at this point for being in violation of USPTO Section 2(d) which is the “likelihood of confusion with a registered mark”. The mark, in this case is that of the College of Saint Rose Golden Knights, a private college located in Albany, New York.
It’s important to note, the issues with the Vegas trademark were triggered by the USPTO’s trademark examining attorney, not the college. A common misconception would be that the school itself is the one raising concern, this is not the case, so if you have issues with this, be an adult and leave the school alone.
When it comes to registering a trademark, geographical identifiers are not considered enough to set applications apart — because of this much of the document created by the USPTO deals with proving that “Vegas”, while not the official name of the city represented, is accepted enough as a nickname geographical identifier for the region – screenshots showing dictionary definitions of “Vegas” are included to make this point. Because of this the “Vegas Golden Knights” registration is treated as if they had trademarked “Golden Knights” on its own.
Why is this a problem?
There’s a few reasons given:
One is the “similarity of the marks” — recalling that “Vegas” as a geographical identifier is not considered when comparing, the refusal points out that therefore “Golden Knights” is the dominant aspect of the new design (perhaps this is in reference to the wordmark logo), the USPTO also does not factor in differences in fonts or colours and considers the inclusion of the college name (note: not a geographical identifier) in their logo so small and insignificant that it’s basically a tagline… so in the eyes of the USPTO this is a straight up comparison of two marks which read “Golden Knights”.
The other reason the USPTO gives is “the similarity in the nature and trade channels of the services”, the easy way to describe this is — they’re in the same business: sports. So, not only is the USPTO looking at this as two trademarks with the same exact name (“Golden Knights vs Golden Knights”), they’re looking at it as Golden Knights sports vs Golden Knights sports. They give many examples showing that while college sports are different than professional sports, they bring in a similar television audience, will share venues, and are known widely across the United States.
Perhaps a comparable example of how the USPTO is looking at this would be like if I opened up a fast food burger joint, called it “L.A. In-N-Out Burger” and created a logo which read “In-N-Out Burger” anywhere on it. I mean, I’d lose that trademark application.
The easy way to sum this up — the USPTO is concerned that consumers may think the college is based out of Las Vegas and is associated with the hockey team due to the similarity in the names and logos. Forget you know anything about sports, you could see how someone completely unaware of the circumstances could come to that conclusion… and that’s all the USPTO needs to refuse the application.
So… what does this mean? Well, it’s not yet at all the time for panic if you’re a fan of the Vegas Golden Knights name. The league has announced they will be preparing a detailed response to the USPTO to address the matter:
As you can see they’ll be providing examples of where sports teams share similar names (there are quite a few, afterall). The league said they do not need to file a response until June 7, 2017 and consider it a “routine matter”. If they don’t file that response by June 7th then they just lose the trademark by default.
While the “hey those guys do it too!” method alone may work, if it doesn’t they could call up the college and try to strike a deal (i.e. “Hello, would you like some $$$?”) allowing them usage of their trademark. If the USPTO sees that the college is cool with it then there should be no issue getting things set straight and moving forward.
Realistically I do not see this resulting in a change to the name or logo of the Vegas Golden Knights, as the NHL explains this is a relatively routine issue, there’s just a bit of egg on their face that this wasn’t cleared in advance of the big announcement.