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A new NHL team: The Las Vegas Silver (or Desert) (or Golden) Knights

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Mixed Bag of Nuts, USPTO

Have you heard about the NHL’s newest, not-yet-fully-named hockey team, based in Las Vegas? Although the team’s inaugural season will not begin until October 2017, season tickets have already sold out. This exciting news was a big relief for the team, who faced some skepticism about market demand for a 31st NHL team, and because Las Vegas has not historically been a popular home base for professional sports teams. In fact, no professional sports team has ever been based in Las Vegas, with the temporary exception of the Utah Jazz, who played 11 games there in the 1983-84 season.

In early September, the team owner, Bill Foley, announced the team name… well, part of the team name. During a radio interview, Mr. Foley revealed that the name would be the Las Vegas “Something Knights.” Later, it was disclosed that the name would be one of three options:  The Las Vegas Silver Knights, Desert Knights, or Golden Knights. But the final announcement of the full team name will not take place until November. Mr. Foley assured future fans that the “name is definitely set,” but he “can’t tell you exactly what it is. That’s a secret.”

Last month, on August 23, the team filed intent-to-use (ITU) trademark applications (Lanham Act Section 1(b)) for the word marks Las Vegas Silver KnightsLas Vegas Desert Knights, and Las Vegas Golden Knights. One of the key requirements for seeking registration through an ITU application is a “bona fide intent” to use the mark in commerce. 15 U.S.C. § 1051(b)(1). The Federal Circuit has held that “bona fide intent” means that the “applicant’s intent must be demonstrable and more than a mere subjective belief,” and that the applicant must have a “firm” intent to actually use the mark in commerce and “not merely [an] intent to reserve a right in the mark.” M.Z. Berger & Co. v. Swatch AG, 787 F.3d 1368, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2015).

One might wonder whether there was a “bona fide intent” at the time of the ITU filings in August? Presumably the team intends to use only one of the three options as its team name. If the name had not yet been chosen at the time of filing, could there have been a “firm” intent to use each (or any) of the marks in commerce, rather than merely an “intent to reserve” the marks? Or perhaps as of August 23, the team had already firmly chosen which of the marks it would ultimately use (though keeping it secret), in which case the “bona fide intent” requirement could be met–at least for that one mark. The other two marks, if filed for the purpose of maintaining pre-announcement secrecy, would have a harder time passing the bona-fide intent requirement. Or perhaps some type of creative marketing strategy is underway, in which the other two names besides the chosen official team name are planned to be used in some other way. At this point, it’s all speculation. But speculation can make for interesting trademark questions.

What do you think? Any guesses as to which of the three names the team has chosen? Stay tuned for the big reveal in November.