Fight over the Mark “Golden Knights”
On January 10, 2018, the Department of the Army filed two notices of opposition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to oppose the marks “Vegas Golden Knights,” and “Las Vegas Golden Knights.” The marks were filed by Black Knights Sports Entertainment, LLC. Black Knights Sports Entertainment and its majority owner, Bill Foley, are the owners of the recent National Hockey League expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In August 2017, Black Knights Sports Entertainment, LLC completed the registration application and from the outset, it appeared the Department of the Army would oppose the registration.
Since 1969, the Department of the Army has used the mark “Golden Knights” in connection with a U.S. Army Parachute Team, known as the Golden Knights. According to the notice of opposition, the Department of the Army claims to have common law rights to the mark “Golden Knights”, and a color scheme, which uses a combination of black, gold, yellow, and white. By allowing the Las Vegas Golden Knights to use the mark, logo, and color scheme, the Department of the Army claims that the public could easily confuse or believe that the Las Vegas Golden Knights are somehow affiliated with, or endorsed by the United States Army. This is especially true considering the Las Vegas Golden Knights want to register the mark for entertainment services, including sporting events, which the Department of the Army claims to already use their common law mark.
However, the Department of the Army is not opposing all of the trademarks that the Las Vegas Golden Knights are attempting to register. For example, the Las Vegas Golden Knights registered trademark applications for the previously mentioned marks not only for entertainment services but also for clothing and related goods. The Department of the Army did not oppose these registrations. Also, the Las Vegas Golden Knights filed two trademark applications for a helmet decal, while the application is still pending, it is unlikely to be opposed as a parachute helmet and a hockey helmet are quite different thus unlikely for consumer confusion.
To complicate the matter, not only do the Las Vegas Golden Knights use a similar word mark as the Department of the Army, but they also use a similar black, gold, yellow, and white color scheme. Further, the Las Vegas Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley, is a West Point graduate. In an article from June 2017, the General Manager of the Las Vegas Golden Knights said, “Bill Foley is a West Point Guy … you know about the classmates he had that he lost serving this country. So, those colors mean a lot to us.” Also, Bill Foley even tried to get the U.S. Army Parachute Team – the Golden Knights, to make an appearance at a Las Vegas Golden Knights event, but he told the a Las Vegas Journal that “[they] couldn’t make it work.”
Moving forward, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board will review the Department of the Army’s opposition notices; however, this process could take several years to complete. For the Las Vegas Golden Knights, this is problematic. The team could be potentially be without federal trademark law protection and economic value that comes with it while the currently operate as a professional hockey team. But the lack of trademark registration does not force the Las Vegas Golden Knights to change the team’s name. In fact, any contracts in which the team entered remain enforceable and the team could even use federal and state anti-counterfeiting law to prevent copying of the teams use of the marks. Finally, it is possible that the two parties could reach an agreement about the use of the mark prior to the issuance of a final panel decision.