(UPDATED Jan 11/18 with comment from Vegas) Earlier today the Department of the Army filed a notice of opposition against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment with the United States Trademark and Patent Office over the use of the name “Golden Knights” for the expansion Las Vegas NHL team.
Back in October we had reported that both Army and The College of Saint Rose had requested an extension to the deadline to oppose the trademark, that deadline came today; Saint Rose requested another extension, the Army declared war.
Three grounds of opposition are listed in the filing — Trademark Act Section 2(d): priority and likelihood of confusion; Trademark Act Sections 2 and 43(c): dilution by blurring; and Trademark Act Section 2(a): false suggestion of a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or brings them into contempt, or disrepute. The filing claims that the Army “believes it will be damaged” by the registration of the mark, that they have long used the mark (since “at least 1969”) in connection with its U.S. Army Parachute team, as well as for recruiting efforts, and public relations for the U.S. Military. The similar colour scheme is also noted in the notice of opposition, claiming the Army owns “common law” rights to “black+gold/yellow+white”. [you can read the entire filing here]
As part of their grounds of opposition the Army references numerous quotes made to the media by Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley as well as General Manager George McPhee including those published in the Washington Post following the unveiling of the Golden Knights uniforms in June of 2017. In that article McPhee suggests the colour scheme was chosen because “Foley is a ‘West Point Guy'” (“West Point” is a name which commonly refers to the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY).
Foley originally wanted to call the team “Black Knights” the same name used by Army’s athletic teams, according to this hard-to-defend quote attributed to McPhee posted by a TSN Radio Station in Vancouver: “We were going to be the Black Knights but there’s already a Blackhawks in the league … so another name used at West Point is ‘Golden Knights’ for the parachute team”. The Tweet is also referenced in the notice of opposition.
The Vegas Golden Knights have until February 19, 2018 to respond to the notice of opposition filed today or they may be at risk of simply losing the trademark. The full schedule of deadlines was set out in the filing below:
Speaking with an attorney who wished to remain anonymous but added they had “more than a passing interest in sports logos and design”; they felt that Army’s case was “at least as good as the challenge that caused the Jags to change their marks in 95”, referring to the Jacksonville Jaguars who were forced to change their original team logos by the Jaguar Motor Company prior to their inaugural season in the NFL twenty-three years ago.
“They make at very least a prima facie case that the marks and colours were intended to conjure imagery of the USMA which may be enough to get a trial court to side with the Army. This is by no means a frivolous case.”
I reached out to the Golden Knights (uh, the hockey one) seeking a comment but had not received one by the time I finished writing this post.
It’s hard to predict where this will end up, Army seems pretty upset about the whole thing and they appear to have ample evidence that the hockey club intentionally built their brand around theirs even using the same name as one of their sports clubs. You figure the hockey team will respond before the deadline to at least drag this out into the off-season to prevent a forced mid-season change (especially during a season like the one they’re having). In our previous story about this case we had noticed Foley’s group had registered the domain name for “SandKnights.com”, our thought at the time was it was being saved as an “break glass in case of emergency” name for the team… might be time to start thinking about swinging that hammer.
UPDATE Jan 11/18 – 11:55am ET
The Vegas Golden Knights issued a statement this morning in response to our story, sharing it here in its entirety:
“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.”
The money line in there: “… we are not aware of a single complaint from anyone attending our games that they were expecting to see the parachute team …”
Featured photo © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.