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Bill Foley learning valuable lesson in selecting team name

No matter what Bill Foley winds up calling his Las Vegas NHL expansion team, he will have learned a valuable lesson: It’s a lot more complicated to get the naming rights and trademark for a sports team than just creating a clever name.

Las Vegas attorney Mark Tratos, who has spent 35 years dealing with sports and entertainment law, empathizes with Foley. He understands the challenges in today’s world with the Internet in trying to secure domain name rights as well as trademark and copyright rights for a team.

“It’s a lot more difficult now,” Tratos said. “You’re competing with people you don’t know who are trying to secure the domain name for themselves so they own it and you have to come to them. I think (Foley) has seen that with some of the names he was considering.

“It’s one of the most frustrating things, trying to secure names and images. One thing that has complicated his approach is he publicly stated his desired names and people went in there and grabbed the domain names to variations of those names. I’m sure he’d like to do things more privately but that’s not so easy to do.”

Joe Guagliardo of the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton and specializes in trademark law, said it’s easy to understand why Foley is frustrated.

“The challenge is finding a name that isn’t being used or isn’t taken,” he said. “A lot of businesses have that problem, not just pro sports teams. Finding a name is hard and it requires a lot of searching and digging to make sure you’re not in conflict with someone.”

Foley said despite the hiccups, the process is now moving quickly.

“We are in the final process of securing the name preferred by our Hockey Club and we have the league’s support,” Foley said in an email Thursday.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email Thursday the league is working with the team on its identity and has not had any objection from any of the other 30 NHL teams.

“We have been vetting a number of different names and identities,” Daly said. “None of our discussions have implicated or required any other club involvement.”

Tratos said the keys to not being in violation of trademark or copyright law is to have numerous meanings to your name or by adding a prefix of suffix to it. In the case of “Las Vegas Knights” it could be used with or without the K or by adding the prefix “Silver” or “Neon” to the name, where it wouldn’t conflict with the London Knights, a junior hockey team located in Canada.

“You can spell Knights in a different fashion,” Tratos said. “The nice thing about Knights is it can be used with a K or an N; at least as it pertains to Las Vegas.”

Tratos said the tricky part is the domain name. He’s aware of those lurking in the shadows trying to make a quick buck off a company by grabbing the rights to a name or trademark even though they have no intention of using it themselves.

“That’s why it’s important to do things as quietly as possible,” he said. “In this case, when you have a major league professional sports team, that’s easier said than done. I’m sure (Foley) doesn’t want to get into fights over domain names and trademarks.”

Tratos said he likes the name Las Vegas Nighthawks, a name Foley’s company, Black Knight Sports and Entertainment, does own.

“It’s nice to make the association with the city,” he said of the name, which has a double meaning — a bird indigenous to the area and a stealth fighter warplane that was tested at Groom Lake and commissioned at the Tonopah Test Range, 140 miles north of Las Vegas. “I’m sure (Chicago) Blackhawks fans don’t like it because it sounds similar. But the truth is, they don’t look the same or have the same meaning.

“So unless the Chicago team or the NHL has a real problem with it, I don’t see it legally being a problem if he calls his team the Nighthawks.”

Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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