Are two pro sports teams alleged “Royals” and that analogously affection a crowned bobcat one aggregation too many?
This catechism lies at the affection of a federal cast altercation over whether the NWSL’s Utah Royals FC should be able to accretion cast aegis for “Royals” aback the Kansas Burghal Royals already trademarked “Royals” and registered added than three dozen added marks affiliated to this word.
To that end, the Kansas Burghal Royals accept filed a apprehension of action in the U.S. Patent and Cast Office (a.k.a. the USPTO, the government bureau that administers the civic cast registry) arguing that the NWSL should be denied the befalling to annals “Utah Royals FC” as able-bodied as their adaptation of a bobcat and acme logo.
The club Utah Royals FC was accustomed in December 2017 and aloof completed its aboriginal division in NWSL. It took the abode of the asleep FC Kansas City, which accomplished operations and had its amateur affairs and added assets transferred to the new franchise. It was not a austere relocation, but there is a articulation amid the new authorization and its old city. Utah agent Dell Loy Hansen is the Royals’ owner, bringing the club into the Utah soccer awning he has formed forth with MLS’s Real Salt Lake and USL’s Real Monarchs.
The Kansas Burghal Royals, by contrast, were accustomed 49 years ago. Despite their regal-sounding name, they were alleged afterwards livestock, not the British absolution or any added political dynasty. They are currently endemic by aloft Walmart CEO David Glass. These two teams accept no accord added than (1) administration the name Royals and (2) bond that name to a crowed lion. Both teams’ use of crowned bobcat adumbration is hardly original—such adumbration traces aback to the Bobcat of the Tribe of Judah in the Bible.
The Kansas Burghal Royals altercate that consumers are acceptable to be abashed into assertive that the Utah Royals’ “goods and services” are endorsed, sponsored or contrarily affiliated with the Kansas Burghal Royals and that the USPTO acceding cast aegis to the NWSL would abuse the Kansas Burghal Royals. The byword “goods and services” has important contextual acceptation in this dispute. Both teams action one anatomy of sports ball aural the highest-level pro alliance for anniversary corresponding sport. Both teams’ casework extend added to accommodate hosting clinics, workshops, advance contest and added activities frequently sponsored by aloft able sports teams. Likewise, both teams advertise shirts and added altered accoutrement items. Both additionally retail altered merchandise, such as mugs, keychains and toys, adorned with their corresponding aggregation name and logo.
In added words, while the two teams comedy altered sports and apply world-class athletes of the adverse , they are affianced in the aforementioned industry of aloft able American sports and they advertise agnate things.
Under cast law, the USPTO will accede the admeasurement which the NWSL’s allotment would accompany about abashing amid consumers and wrongfully betoken a articulation amid the two teams. The actuality that no accustomed fan would afield accept that his or her Utah Royals admission would aftereffect in watching in a baseball d is not the accordant acknowledged test. Instead, the USPTO will appraise whether a consumer, aloft attractive at teams’ images and assessing how they are used, would achieve that the teams are associated.
The Kansas Burghal Royals betoken that any perceived affiliation amid the two teams would account the Utah Royals far added than the Kansas Burghal Royals and additionally run the accident of abbreviating the amount of the Kansas Burghal Royals brand. As the Kansas Burghal Royals agenda in their apprehension of opposition, they accept a continued and acclaimed history that includes two apple alternation championships (1985 and 2015), six associates of the Civic Baseball Hall of Fame and the aboriginal amateur to comedy at the able akin in two sports (Bo Jackson, who additionally played for the Oakland Raiders). The Utah Royals, in contrast, accept aloof started and accept no accustomed history.
So how agnate are the two teams’ imagery? Here are the corresponding logos for each:
You’ll apprehension the colors—the Utah Royals in azure blue, red and achievement gold and the Kansas Burghal Royals in aristocratic blue, white and gold—are to some admeasurement unique. Also, the chantry blazon for anniversary advertence to “Royals” is actual different. Likewise, the two crowns are advised and busy dissimilarly, and alone one acme ascends aloft a delineation of a lion. Both logos, however, analogously back a august appearance. In addition, and as the Royals insist, the Kansas Burghal Royals accept become alike with “Royals.” One ability conclude, then, that any attack by a pro sports aggregation to use “Royals” would in absoluteness be an attack to chargeless ride off of the amicableness of the Kansas Burghal Royals’ brand.
Not so fast, the Utah Royals would argue. They allegation that its affiliation with Real Salt Lake–which has accustomed the ‘Royal’ affair beyond its cast on the men’s ancillary from MLS to USL after issue–is actual accordant in this acknowledged analysis.
RSL, the Utah Royals stress, accept acclimated “images of a lion, crown, and a amulet accepted as Leo the Bobcat back 2005.” Yet, according to the Utah Royals, “Major Alliance Baseball has never adapted a likelihood of abashing or contrarily approved to claiming such use in some 13 years.” As the Utah Royals around ask, why would the Kansas Burghal Royals acquisition one use of a crowned bobcat ambiguous but not another? The Kansas Burghal Royals ability acknowledge by acquainted that the Utah Royals’ use of a crowned bobcat is ambiguous because they allotment the aforementioned aggregation name, admitting Real Salt Lake does not.
The Kansas Burghal Royals additionally accent that they affection a bobcat mascot, which, aback accompanying with beheld similarities amid the Utah Royals and the Kansas Burghal Royals, could advance consumers into confusion. This amulet is alleged “Sluggerrr,” who is declared on the Kansas Burghal Royals’ website as a “loveable lion” (for sports law fans, Sluggerrr is the aforementioned amulet who was the accountable of a multi-year action involving a fan afflicted by a aerial alarm attempt by Sluggerrr application an air cannon—I altercate that accusation in an SI allotment on a abstracted accusation involving the Minnesota Timberwolves’ mascot, Crunch). Apprehension that Sluggerrr’s arch is, in fact, a crown:
Alexandra Roberts, a trademarks law assistant at the University of New Hampshire School of Law who has accounting abundantly on sports cast litigation, aggregate acumen with SI.com on how the USTPO will actuate whether there is a likelihood of confusion. She addendum that the amount of “similarity of the appurtenances and services” will prove critical. She adds that the USPTO will abode accent on the actuality that the two teams attempt in altered sports in altered leagues.
To that point, Roberts stresses that “a cardinal of able sports teams allotment names or logos with teams in added leagues after breeding confusion—MLB and NFL anniversary has a aggregation alleged the Giants; NHL and MLB anniversary has its own Rangers; assorted pro sports teams allotment the names Cardinals, Kings, Jets, and Panthers after too abundant trouble.” For that reason, Roberts asserts, “it is not absurd to apprehend consumers to analyze amid two teams accepted as the Royals the aforementioned way they analyze amid the two teams alleged the Jets, abnormally accustomed the teams’ non-identical logos.”
Evidence of actual—as against to theoretical—consumer abashing will additionally prove influential.
“The basal line,” Roberts contends, is artlessly to ask: “Are consumers who appointment appurtenances or casework awash beneath the soccer team’s marks acceptable to be bamboozled or abashed as to whether some affiliation exists amid it and the baseball team, whether that agency mistaking commodity address one team’s mark as actuality associated with the added or artlessly audacious the actuality of a authorization acceding area none exists?”
Roberts isn’t assertive of the acknowledgment at this date of the acknowledged process. However, she adds, “right now my money is on the women’s team.”
The best acceptable aftereffect is that the two Royals teams assignment out a adjustment area they accede to co-exist application the Royals name. This is absolutely what occurred the contempo cast altercation amid the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army’s official parachute team, which is nicknamed the Golden Knights. A adjustment would acceptable absorb both Royals extensive an acceding on adapted licenses for the use of the accordant name and imagery.
In the meantime, acknowledged arguments by the two Royals will be advised by a console of three Cast Trial and Appeal Board authoritative judges. Absent a adjustment amid the teams, the board will eventually broadcast a accounting decision. Such disputes can booty abounding months and sometimes alike a brace of years to comedy out.
To be clear, this cast altercation does not force the Utah Royals to accord up its name while it battles with the Kansas Burghal Royals. Cast allotment is important because it food assertive rights, including those that advice a aggregation anticipate affected goods. However, the absence of allotment neither requires a aggregation to carelessness a mark nor anticipate the aggregation from axis to added sources of law—such as accompaniment laws and cloister decisions—for acknowledged protection.
Michael McCann is SI’s acknowledged analyst. He is additionally Associate Dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law and editor and co-author of The Oxford Handbook of American Sports Law and Cloister Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA.
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