NHL Hoping to Send Drinkware Maker to Trademark Penalty Box Over Stanley Cup Beer Mug Design
Though its players still engage in occasional brouhahas, the National Hockey League (NHL) does not see nearly as many fisticuff incidents as it did years ago, when it seemed every team had at least one player who would settle all scores. Since the league lacks many literal dustups, perhaps the overseers are looking to keep that preserve-order-at-all-costs mentality going, but in a figurative sense, as it has commenced a trademark infringement battle over a beer mug that they feel compromises the identity of its chief prize, the Stanley Cup.
Many pundits classify the trophy as the hardest to win in all of professional sports, so given that stance and the fact that teams have been vying for it since 1893, one could definitely understand how protective the league would be of its integrity. Enter, then, The Hockey Cup LLC, an Illinois-based collection of companies that the NHL’s complaint says sells unauthorized Stanley Cup reproductions and bogus jerseys. The latter items, as of now, do not appear on its website, but the mugs do, with one 25 oz. stein coming with a case and the other also featuring a holder and 12 cups.
In terms of a creative explanation of the product, The Hockey Cup LLC admittedly gives the product a glowing account, claiming that end-users should "Lace ’em up, light the lamp and hoist the Cup." The NHL, though, is not concerned with someone’s skills as a wordsmith. According to JDSupra.com, the league contends that The Hockey Cup LLC is committing trademark and copyright infringement, creating a false association and dilution of an established symbol, and engaging in unfair competition.
There are plenty of companies who make their livelihood by selling only one sort of good, yet that commodity often comes in various forms, shapes or even flavors. With respect to The Hockey Cup LLC, though, the aforementioned mug is the lone drinkware option, which, granted, could make complete sense since the product is a take on the Stanley Cup and could certainly serve as a standalone offering. But being singular could also make the mug susceptible to a naysayer’s claim that The Hockey Cup LLC’s owners are interested in marketing a one-off item solely to act like sellers of a unique good that is really a shoddy imitation of the actual trophy.
In slightly colorful language, we will say, The Takeout takes the NHL to task for even engaging in the legal fracas, with the author especially upset with the plaintiff’s contention that the very existence of the mugs damages the league’s credibility. That declaration by the NHL will be its chief element to present, according to JDSupra, as its representatives will have to prove that there is “a likelihood of confusion as to source, sponsorship, connection or affiliation.”
When one adds to this mix the defendant’s assertion that the NHL does not hold authority over the Stanley Cup in its physical form and therefore cannot hinder depictions of it, expect the case to involve a history lesson. The Hockey Cup LLC will certainly be well aware of the 1893 decision to have trustees control the Cup and the 1926 agreement between the then-overseers and the NHL to have the latter look after the prize.
At the heart of this matter, reputations mostly aside, could be a consideration of consumers’ well being. The NHL is contending that The Hockey Cup LLC conglomerate is putting end-users at a disadvantage by introducing a lackluster and illegal product, while its adversary is stating that the well-established plaintiff is overstepping its bounds. As they enter the second week of their bout, it will be interesting to see who lands more punches and what the verdict could mean for addressing the perpetual fight between marketing licensed goods and selling unjustified imitations, if the NHL wins in court.