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Drinking mug brings down wrath of major pro sports league

One side calls it a blatant rip off and unlawful exploitation of a symbol deemed the “Holy Grail” of a longstanding professional sports league.

The challenged party’s response is a “much ado about nothing” rejoinder that promotes its “independent artistic creation.” It claims a lawful right to parody subject matter under the Constitution’s First Amendment free speech grant.

The litigation addressing the dispute is currently under the oversight of a U.S. federal court. That tribunal is steadily working through the issues, which reportedly could take several years to resolve.

The weighty and consequential subject matter that divides the National Hockey League and the Hockey Cup LLC is … beer.

More precisely, a mug for quaffing suds that is marketed as “The Hockey Cup” and “The Stanley Stein.”

As noted in a recent in-depth Sports Illustrated piece, both those references “bear more than a passing resemblance” to the above-cited Holy Grail. That is more formally known as the Stanley Cup trophy, which the NHL has passed along for temporary treasuring each year since 1893 to the league’s champions.

NHL executives are now seeing red, contending that the mug denotes a crass and unlawful attempt to profit off the league by infringing its trademark rights to an iconic object/symbol. The league states that the mug’s makers are using the idea of the real Cup for unauthorized marketing and profit. The NHL wants Hockey Cup LLC to be immediately and permanently enjoined from further exploitation and pay the league for all profits received.

The defendants argue that the league’s position is untenable. They say that there are multiple differences between the NHL’s cup and their drinking mug. Collectively, the variations make it a ridiculous assumption that any reasonable consumer would be confused and posit a connection between the contesting parties. And, again, they asset a constitutional right-of-expression defense. They stress that the mug clearly parodies a trophy and is centrally about something dramatically different from hockey.

Sports Illustrates notes that other pro sports leagues are closely tuned in on the matter. Like the NHL, they too have highly valued properties they seek to protect and profit exclusively from.

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