Las Vegas’s NHL expansion team might be at the head of the conference pack, but the rights to its name are in dispute once again.
The Vegas Golden Knights face opposition to their trademark application from the U.S. Army – specifically, the U.S. Military Academy, known as West Point. The school says it already holds the rights to the name Golden Knights because its parachute team has had the nickname for decades.
Mary LaFrance is an intellectual property law professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s Boyd School of Law. She said when a company wants to register a trademark it files with the patent and trademark office. That application then becomes public and other companies, organizations, institutions or individuals can file an opposition to the trademark.
“In order to oppose a trademark, you have to make a convincing argument that your business interest is likely to be damaged by the registration of the mark,” she said.
The trademark office then looks at the opposition claim, which can fall into two categories. The first argument is that allowing another company to use a trademark would cause confusion. The second argument is that allowing the trademark would dilute the effectiveness.
“The Army’s other argument is based on dilution, which is basically a claim that their Golden Knights trademark is famous enough that no one else should be allowed to use that mark - even if it doesn’t cause a likelihood of confusion,” LaFrance said.
However, she believes that argument is weak because so few people know that there is an Army parachute team called the Golden Knights and it is unlikely that people who are not hockey fans or don't live in Las Vegas have heard of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“How much overlap could there possibly between people who follow the Golden Knights parachute team and people who follow hockey?” she said.
If the trademark office does rule in favor of the Army, the Vegas Golden Knights have a couple of options. The team could file to register a more specific trademark. Currently, it is looking to register the name "Vegas Golden Knights" and "Las Vegas Golden Knight" in every possible script and color.
But the team could narrow its focus and just register the name in a specific font and color.
It could also just use common law registration, which means continue to use it without registering with the trademark office, but that could open the team up to litigation from the Army.
The Army has not registered the name "Golden Knights" with the trademark office, but LaFrance said since it has had it for so long and it is recognized that doesn't really help the team's case.
Mary LaFrance, IGT Professor of Intellectual Property Law, University of Nevada Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law
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