What Happened in Vegas Should Stay in Vegas: How the New Seattle NHL Franchise Can Avoid Another “Golden Knights” Trademark Controversy

The new Seattle NHL Franchise will be settling upon a name in the not-so-distant future, though they will have to be sure to avoid the trademark issues that affected the Vegas Golden Knights.

On December 4th, 2018, the National Hockey League (NHL) awarded the City of Seattle an expansion team to the delight of Seattle area hockey fans.  The Seattle team will be the 32nd in the NHL and will begin play for the 2021-22 season.  Fans, however, do not know the name of their new franchise yet, though there are a number of potential names the team could adopt.

Oak View Group, the group behind the KeyArena renovation, has registered more than three dozen internet domain names that include thirteen different names for the Seattle NHL team.  These names are: Cougars, Eagles, Emeralds, Evergreens, Firebirds, Kraken, Rainiers, Renegades, Sea Lions, Seals, Sockeyes, Totems and Whales.  Which of these thirteen names is to be chosen is uncertain, and the popularity of each respective name has been in flux since the potential names were revealed.

Regardless of which name the Seattle franchise ultimately settles on, it is crucial that the franchise exercises its due diligence and ensures that it does not pick a name that is already trademarked.  Either that, or the Seattle franchise should reach out to the owners of trademarks of certain names before announcing the team’s official name.  That way, disputes can be resolved and agreements can be reached before the team’s name goes public.

The NHL is not new to these types of trademark disputes: the Vegas Golden Knights were subject to a trademark opposition just last year that could have prevented them from using the name. UB Law Professor Mark Bartholomew covered this dispute in a blog post last year. This opposition was filed by the U.S. Army, which has a Golden Knights parachuting team that has existed since 1969.  In addition to the name, the Vegas Golden Knights also copied the parachuting team’s color schemes.  This copying was intentional, as Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley graduated from West Point and clearly wanted to use the Army’s name and colors.  Fortunately for the hockey team, the parties were able to settle and enter a co-existence agreement.

Based on the existing thirteen names the Seattle expansion is considering, there is a good chance that another trademark dispute could occur.  One potential name, the Seattle Sockeyes, is quite popular and could be the eventual name of the team.  However, romance novel author Jami Davenport has already filed an application for “Seattle Sockeyes” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, as she has been using that team name in her novels since 2014.  She filed the application in late December 2018 after hearing the proposed names, fearing that the Seattle franchise would pick that name and force her to retroactively change the team name in her books.  If the NHL Seattle franchise was to settle on the Sockeyes name, then they should work out some sort of agreement with Davenport, ensuring that the real NHL team could co-exist with its fictionalized (and steamier) counterpart.

The name “Seattle Totems” could be problematic as well.  In a meeting with NHL Seattle’s ownership group, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suggested that obtaining the trademark for “Seattle Totems” could be a difficult process.  This is likely because the Seattle Totems was a former Western Hockey League franchise that dissolved in 1975.  Though Bettman did not specify what kinds of hoops the Seattle expansion team would have to go through to get this name, his comment suggests that the process could be time consuming and expensive.

The Seattle NHL franchise has a number of interesting names to choose from, and hopefully they can settle on a name that the Seattle community wholeheartedly embraces.  Based on some of the name possibilities, however, there may be some trademark issues ahead.  It is best that the team exercises its due diligence, researches to see what names may be already trademarked, and make arrangements with those trademark holders… before officially announcing the name of the team.  That way, the trademark fiasco that happened in Vegas can stay in Vegas.

Image Credit: Maelick and Wikipedia

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article listed the Seattle Totems as an NHL team, when they were a Western Hockey League team.

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