In 2014, in the District Court of Arizona, a judge ruled that “Google” was not a generic term and was eligible to receive trademark protection in Elliott v. Google. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. In 2011, Forbes estimated that the “Google” trademark was worth $113 Billion; the trademark is worth more now in 2018 and the company’s trademark is likely its most valuable asset. The suit first ensued when Elliott purchased over 700 domain names with the word “Google” and after the company had successfully won a name dispute, Elliott filed to cancel “Google” trademarks. Elliott claimed that Google was a generic term and should not receive trademark protection. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling in this case will most definitely affect companies and entrepreneurs of all sizes, perhaps giving companies more protection than they were afforded in the past; what some are calling an unintended consequence.
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court, in an 8-0 ruling, found that the government can no longer sensor trademarks on the grounds that they may be offensive. In Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court Justices found the seventy-one year old rule allowing the government to refuse offensive trademarks to be unconstitutional and to violate free speech and first amendment rights. The justices were unable to agree on exactly what legal standard was to apply to the present case or future cases. The revocation of this seventy-one year old rule that has affected the registration of many marks over the years is bound to have an effect on the future of trademark law and trademark litigation. Immediately following the Supreme Court’s decision, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) was inundated with requests to register offensive trademarks.
Starting with the 2017 season, the National Hockey League (NHL) expanded to add the Vegas Golden Knights. If hearing “NHL” and “Golden Knights” confused you, you might not be alone – the Army parachute team is also named the Golden Knights. And that potential for confusion has caused the Army to file notice in the Patent and Trademark Office and request that the PTO refuse to register Vegas’ trademark.