golden-knights

What’s in a name?

Plenty, if you’re the National Hockey League’s new Las Vegas franchise and you’ve chosen “Golden Knights” as your team nickname.

So far there’s been an ongoing headache, a couple of skirmishes with the U.S. Army and an off-the-wall call by a federal patent official that has left the team’s moniker in legal limbo.

Despite all that, there may still be a happy ending to the convoluted name game being played by the NHL expansion team, which is the first professional sports franchise ever in Sin City and is set to give the league 31 teams.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is currently considering the NHL’s 1,347-page response to its December decision not to register two trademarks, “Vegas Golden Knights” for hockey exhibitions, and another for apparel sales. The name and logo were too close to the registered trademark of The College of Saint Rose, a 4,211-student university in Albany, New York, examining attorney David C. Mayer found.

In response, attorney Catherine M.C. Farrelly, partner and chair of the trademark and brand management group at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz in New York, argued that mascots share the same name all the time in sports, there’s a crowded field of Golden Knight and Knight trademarks already out there, sports fans are fanatics about knowing their teams and won’t be confused, and the marks really are different.

A ruling could come in as soon as two weeks, which would give the team plenty of time before the season opener to crank up its marketing machine and maximize inaugural season returns from licensing and merchandise sales featuring the Vegas Golden Knights name.

There is plenty of precedent on the team’s side, the filing makes clear. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s University of California, Los Angeles Bruins and the NHL’s Boston Bruins; and the National Football League’s New York Giants and Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants are just a couple of many such shared names. In St. Louis, the baseball Cardinals existed with the football Cardinals for years, and the University of Louisville is the Cardinals, too. And Stanford University is The Cardinal.

The standard for denial is based on the likelihood of confusion, along with potential for financial harm. Still, it’s hard to imagine a befuddled St. Rose fan in upstate New York accidentally buying a ticket to a pro hockey game in southern Nevada.

So logic, history and common sense suggest it will be the Vegas Golden Knights on the ice when the puck is dropped in the team’s first game.

But it’s not a lock.

“USPTO examiners can be quite unyielding,” said attorney Jennifer Ko Craft, a partner at Dickinson Wright in Las Vegas and a trademark specialist.

“Even if there are others who have registered trademarks in similar situations in the past they cannot use past registrations to justify approving any present application. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure specifically prohibits it. Trademarks should be viewed as fluid. So, while these should get approved it’s hard to say that with certainty,” she said.

If they aren’t, the team could shift to the Desert Knights or Silver Knights, names for which the team has already filed for preliminary trademark approval.

December’s rejection by the Trademark Office had to have felt like a slap shot to the noggin for team owner Bill Foley. And there has been plenty of speculation that the trademark attorneys should have been brought in prior to the selection of the team’s name.

“I wanted to have a successful name and a successful logo, and we’ve done that,” Foley told more than 5,000 fans when he unveiled the name and team colors on Nov. 22.

The crowd overflowed the Toshiba Plaza outside T-Mobile Arena, where the team is set to play its home games.

Foley had earlier skated past the objections to his first choice for a team name, the Black Knights, because of the displeasure of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, whose athletic teams use that moniker. Foley subsequently shifted to the Golden Knights, but still drew fire from the U.S. Army, whose precision parachute team is known as the Golden Knights.

Las Vegas is scheduled to host the NHL Awards show on Wednesday from T-Mobile Arena, and the expansion team will build its roster by picking one player from each team that morning. With the regular NHL Draft set for June 23, team officials are very busy and insiders say the distraction is minimal.

Even if unsuccessful in dealing with the trademark examiner, team will still have multiple layers of recourse through appeals if it wanted to pursue the matter further.

At this point, it would seem the Golden Knights is a name worth fighting for.

Contact Todd Cunningham at tcunningham@alm.com. On Twitter: @toddcnnnghm.