Small Drinkware Maker Sued by NHL Over Stanley Cup Beer Mug Is Fighting Back
As the National Hockey League (NHL) prepares for its All-Star Weekend, fans can easily say that its 31 clubs have thus far presented them with many memorable battles. With the second part of the season destined to feature even more tussles as teams vie for playoff positioning, those devotees should consider paying attention to an off-ice clash, too, as the league is waging a trademark violation war against The Hockey Cup LLC, contending that the Illinois-based company is jeopardizing its brand integrity by hawking a mug dubbed the “Stanley Stein.” Now, it appears that the small drinkware company won't be backing down from the NHL's litigation threat.
Anyone who favors swift resolution of any matter, especially a legal one, would likely find this case frustrating, as the spat originated in July and, according to Sports Illustrated, “the merits of the case won’t be determined until later in 2019 or beyond.” Among the four major sports associations, the NHL rounds out the quartet in terms of revenue, but that definitely does not mean that the New York-headquartered organization takes a lax stance against real or supposed infractions against any of the sport’s identifiers. Hailed as the toughest trophy to win among all professional prizes, the Stanley Cup registers as a massive symbol of the league’s clout, and it is that 126-year-old combination of silver and nickel alloy that has financial and brand integrity on its overseers’ minds.
Promo Marketing looked at the confrontation between The Hockey Cup LLC’s founder, Roger Dewey, and the NHL last summer, noting that his 25 oz. beer mug had drawn considerable ire from the league mostly because of its name and shape but also due to the packaging that the plaintiffs hold makes references to city names, color combinations and logos of the league’s half-dozen inaugural teams. Inspecting the Sports Illustrated account of the duel could strike one as being akin to watching an incredibly compelling tennis match where each player comes up with one magnificent shot after another, as writer Michael McCann offers solid points that each side is making, including the preferred locations offered as litigation sites. Here's how McCann summarized The Hockey Cup LLC's defense:
The Hockey Cup and its founder, entrepreneur Roger Dewey, firmly reject the NHL’s assertions. From their vantage point, Dewey never intended to copy the Stanley Cup. Instead, Dewey’s idea for the Stanley Stein—which the defendants describe as an “independent artistic creation”—came about after Dewey unsuccessfully “attempted to purchase a beer stein shaped like a sports trophy.” After failing to find such a product, his research into sports trophies identified several hockey “cups,” including—but not exclusively—the Stanley Cup. The idea of a “hockey trophy inspired beer stain” then naturally came to mind.
The defendants also insist there are at least 15 “visual differences” between the Stanley Stein and the Stanley Cup, which the defendants maintain should enable a reasonable consumer to “easily differentiate” between the two and thus not surmise that any relationship exists between the Stanley Stein and the NHL. Such purported differences include:
• The Stanley Stein includes a handle whereas the Stanley Cup does not.
• The Stanley Stein displays two pairs of hockey sticks on its exterior whereas the Stanley Cup does not.
• The Stanley Cup features “numerous engravings with various teams’ names” whereas the Stanley Stein does not.
• The Stanley Stein and the Stanley Cup use different types of tiers.
• The Stanley Stein features a “pronounced lip” about its bowl and the Stanley Cup doesn’t.
• The diameter of the Stanley Stein’s body portion is slightly larger than that of the Stanley Cup.
• The Stanley Stein is transparent whereas the Stanley Cup is opaque.
From a promotional products perspective, this case is certainly worth staying abreast of, as the NHL, no matter where it falls in the revenue ranks, registers as a huge foe for anyone who would blatantly or even accidentally violate any of its trademarks. The Hockey Cup LLC was a semi-frequent Twitter user as last season progressed, but the account has not made a post since June 2, so that absence makes one wonder if Dewey has elected not to draw additional social media attention to the backlash against his product. No matter how vehemently he states that he is not trying to compromise anything about the NHL’s existence, including the purported "15 visual differences" between the stein and the Stanley Cup, it appears the NHL will press on with its claim that he has taken illegal liberty and should make amends to its heads for doing so.
Through this matter, we are presented with another case where a well-established entity is taking to task a company for its supposed mimicry of an easily identifiable signifier. Given his visual differences list and his argument that the NHL makes no trademark claim to the three-dimensional appearance of the Stanley Cup, we appear to have on our brands a brawl that could result in way more than a five-for-fighting penalty. It will undeniably further considerations of the delicacy that promo companies must consider when pondering designs that someone could even remotely claim appear similar to an established work of art, logo or, in this case, object. In what appears to be an evenly matched contest, the NHL and The Hockey Cup LLC seem set to engage in a legal dustup that could rival that of any divisional duel between two of the league’s most bitter foes. We will undoubtedly revisit this, especially if the matter gains any momentum as the playoffs, which obviously conclude with the awarding of the Stanley Cup, approach.