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Trade marks in US sports: A review of the Vegas Golden Knights & Milwaukee Bucks applications

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Thursday, 12 January 2017 By Ryan Hilbert

Trademark law is notoriously subjective. Courts have long recognized that likelihood of confusion is frequently a disputed issue upon which reasonable minds may differ. Therefore, it is not entirely uncommon for an examiner at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to tacitly conclude during the examination process that an applied-for mark is not confusingly similar to another mark, only to have that same applied-for mark eventually be denied registration after it is successfully challenged by a third party who demonstrates the exact opposite. This dichotomy can often make trademark prosecution in the U.S. incredibly complex.

The subjective nature of trademark law and its effects was on full display in early December 2016 in a pair of announcements about the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, and a dispute between the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the popular German liqueur-maker, Mast-Jagermeister. In the first, it was announced[1] on December 8 that the Vegas Golden Knights’ application to register its team name as a trademark had been refused by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office because the mark was deemed confusingly similar to a mark previously registered by the College of Saint Rose[2] in Albany, New York. In the second, it was announced one day later on December 9 that Jagermeister had formally opposed the Milwaukee Bucks’ application to register the team’s re-designed logo on the ground that it was confusingly similar to Jagermeister’s deer logo.

The article examines – and juxtaposes – the facts behind each of these situations in more detail. In doing so, it also demonstrates that even the simplest-seeming trademark matter can actually be incredibly complicated.

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Ryan Hilbert

Ryan Hilbert

Ryan Hilbert is an attorney with Holley & Menker, P.A. where he practices in the areas of intellectual property prosecution and counseling, licensing and litigation, particularly in the sports and entertainment industries. 

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