U.S. Army to Oppose NHL Franchise’s Trademark Registration

The expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights are doing very, very well—they might just be the greatest expansion team in the history of North American sports. But behind the scenes, the new hockey team, and first pro franchise to set up shop in Las Vegas, is caught in a bit of a legal tussle: The United States Army is filing a formal “opposition” to the team’s trademark registration application.

Oppositions are adversarial administrative proceedings—a bit like mini trials—heard before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB),[1] which adjudicates a variety of trademark proceedings at the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).[2] The U.S. Army is asking the TTAB to prevent the NHL franchise from registering “Las Vegas Golden Knights” and “Vegas Golden Knights” as trademarks for a professional hockey team.

In a January 10 filing, the Army argues, among other things, that use of the words “Las Vegas Golden Knights” for live sporting events is likely to confuse consumers between the source of the hockey franchise and the U.S. Army competitive parachute team, also called the Golden Knights. “If applicant is allowed to register exclusive rights in Vegas Golden Knights . . . the public is likely to be confused as to whether the U.S. government or the applicants controls the quality and nature of the services or endorses or sponsors applicant’s services,” the Army wrote in its notice.

The Army is also arguing that the Las Vegas Golden Knights proposed trademark “dilutes” the U.S. Army brand and “creates a false impression of endorsement or association” between the U.S. Army and the hockey franchise. The Army filing also points out similar styling and colors as potential sources of confusion, dilution, and false impression.

The Army does not have a registration for its claimed mark, but the Army still has a right to argue its Parachute Team “Golden Knights” name has all the elements of a trademark, and therefore is entitled to legal protection.[3]

If the Army prevails in opposing the “Las Vegas Golden Knights” and “Vegas Golden Knights” marks, the franchise could face potential lawsuits from the Army if it continues to use the name. The franchise could choose to change its name or negotiate a settlement with the Army.

This is not the first time the young NHL franchise has faced trademark trouble. In late 2016, the PTO rejected “Las Vegas Golden Knights” trademark registration for t-shirts, hats, and other merchandise, due to high likelihood of confusion with the preexisting College of Saint Rose Golden Knights trademark. That application is still working itself through appeals and related procedures.

(The University of Central Florida also formerly held a trademark registration for “Golden Knights,” but those registrations are now canceled. UCF teams are now known simply as “Knights.”)

TTAB oppositions can take around one year to complete, so we shall wait and see what happens!

–Andrew Levitt

[1] See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1063, 1071; See also T.B.M.P. § 102.02.

[2] Oppositions involve a complaint (known as a notice), an answer, a brief discovery period, motions for summary judgment—all the characteristics of a trial, but relatively accelerated and applying less formal rules. The most dramatic difference between an opposition and an Article III trial is that in an opposition there is no right to a live in-person trial. Instead, the parties present testimony and evidence remotely during designated “testimony periods” and the TTAB decides the case based on a written record.

[3] 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a).

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