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Amateur hour defines trademark saga for Golden Knights

I sure hope the Vegas Golden Knights — we can still call them that, for now — are much better at hiring a head coach and drafting players than they have proven to be naming the team and developing its logo.

Amateur hour needs to come and go.

In a town where odds define most everything, it’s likely those trademark issues that have found Bill Foley’s team won’t lead to any changes for how the National Hockey League expansion club is identified, that those T-shirts and sweatshirts you have already purchased aren’t going to suddenly become rare and coveted items catching big bucks on eBay.

Just as long as a small, private college in Albany, New York, founded in 1920 by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, doesn’t choose to pursue the matter legally.

Which apparently hasn’t been decided.

“It is our team, our nickname, our logo, and we love it,” said Lisa Thomson, chief of staff to the university president at The College of Saint Rose. “I guess we will see what happens. It’s the beginning. For us, this is a process and not a project. To use a sports phrase, it’s the first inning. We never heard from the (Las Vegas) franchise about this. Anything is possible, I assume. It’s Day 1, but I know where the Golden Knights are.”

This is where the lunacy has taken us, to a place with 4,800 students and where Jimmy Fallon once attended college before departing with a semester to go in search of a career in comedy.

Where the chief of staff to the president on Thursday said the biggest news of the day was going to be whether or not heavy snow hit the area, until her telephone began ringing off the hook about a hockey team from Las Vegas.

The gift that keeps on giving, meaning the long and painstakingly slow process that took months for the NHL and its Las Vegas team to finally unveil the nickname and logo at a celebration outside T-Mobile Arena last month, added a new chapter to the saga when its trademark request was denied Wednesday by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Here’s why: The College of Saint Rose, a Division II school that sits on 46 acres and is surrounded by Victorian-era structures in the capital city of New York, is also known as the Golden Knights. Its logo, unveiled in 2001, is strikingly similar to the one the hockey team first displayed Nov. 22.

Let’s be honest: It’s sort of a dead ringer.

“The team and its attorneys would certainly have known about Saint Rose when filing for the trademark,” said Mark Borghese of Borghese Legal, Ltd., a Las Vegas-based firm focused on trademarks, copyrights, technology, and transactional law. “It would have been one of the first things to show up. I’m sure the attorneys told the team it could expect an initial rejection based on the college. A large percentage of trademarks receive initial rejection, and whether they can be overcome or not depends on a number of factors.

“In this case, I think the team is going to be fine unless the school would decide to bring a lawsuit. It’s almost like you have the trademark world and the real world. In the trademark world, the nickname and logos are similar. The name Golden Knights is identical. But in the real world, it’s a small school in New York and an NHL team. Nobody is going to be confused.”

Why didn’t the NHL or Foley merely approach the college about signing a consent agreement, as it did others with similar nicknames and marks, that would allow the Las Vegas team to use both?

Because the school doesn’t play hockey? They’re reaching with that one.

Foley referred all questions to legal counsel while the NHL released a statement saying there are no plans to change the nickname or logo, that it believes the mark should be registered in co-existence with the college registration as others are in sports and that this is a routine matter.

Maybe, and while it’s true the team can continue to use the nickname and sell merchandise, even without officially registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and has six months in which to respond to the denial, all of this appears incredibly unprofessional and sloppy on the side of the NHL and Foley.

I don’t know what, if any, action the small, private college founded by a group of nuns might take, but I assume their attorneys can think of a few ways the university and perhaps athletic department can benefit from, well, what could eventually prove Foley’s generous nature.

Foley’s representatives have said they don’t believe there is reason to strike a deal with Saint Rose, but a school with a Division II athletic department budget can always use a few extra scholarships and new uniforms, no?

I would also think the story might reach the desks of those who write monologues for Fallon, who was awarded an honorary degree from The College of Saint Rose in 2009 and has spoken about the Golden Knights on his late-night show.

This can’t be the sort of publicity Foley sought for the nickname and logo.

My guess is it all works out for his club and nothing changes.

My hope is that amateur hour with the Golden Knights (the hockey team, not college) is finally over.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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