January 8, 2024

Get Kraken on Securing IP Rights

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Get Kraken on Securing IP Rights

by Michael C. Antone, U.S. Registered Patent Attorney, Nemphos Braue

The Seattle Kraken recently hosted the NHL’s Winter Classic, the annual NHL New Year Day outdoor game that is played in a football or baseball stadium.

The Winter Classic is a huge promotional event for the NHL and, in particular, for the host team. Usually, the teams participating in the game introduce specially designed uniforms for the event, which are heavily promoted to induce jersey sales.

This year was no exception as the Kraken decided to wear Winter Classic jerseys commemorating the Seattle Metropolitans, which became the 1st US-based team to win the Stanley Cup as NHL champion back in 1917. The team folded shortly thereafter and NHL hockey did not return to Seattle until 2021 with the Kraken.

The jerseys were a nice tribute to an NHL champion that has been long forgotten except by NHL enthusiasts and Seattle historians. However, there is one problem. The trademark rights to Seattle Metropolitans and their S logo were acquired by Seattle Metropolitan LLC, a company set up in 2015, (“Metropolitans”) to sell merchandise commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Seattle Metropolitans Stanley Cup win. US Reg. Nos. 4928419, 5103397, and 6777676.

The Kraken (Seattle Hockey Partners LLC) were aware of the Metropolitans’ use of the trademark in the sale of merchandise and were in negotiations with the Metropolitans in advance of the Winter Classic for the use of the mark.

The negotiations broke down, but the Kraken continued with the commemorative jersey design for the Winter Classic allegedly based on the Seattle Metropolitans design. In response, on December 27, 2023, days before the Winter Classic, the Metropolitans filed a lawsuit against the Kraken in US District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle, Civil Action No. 23-cv-1989, alleging trademark infringement and false designation of origin and unfair competition, consumer protection act violation, unjust enrichment, conversion, and tortious interference.

Below is a comparison of the Metropolitans and Kraken commemorative logos and jerseys taken from the complaint.

Seattle Metropolitans and Kraken
At this stage, it is uncertain whether the Metropolitans and the Kraken will reach an agreement regarding the Metropolitans intellectual property. What is certain is that the dispute has been a costly distraction to an otherwise successful Winter Classic for the Kraken and the NHL. For business owners, when it comes to intellectual property rights of others, it is almost always better to seek permission before using it, than beg forgiveness after using it.

PS – In case you are wondering, the Kraken defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-0 in the Winter Classic in front of ~47,000 fans at T-Mobile Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners.

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