U.S. Military Wages Trademark Lawsuit Against Similarly Named Liquor Store

The U.S. military is not above the trademark squabbles that are dominating the fashion industry at the moment. Thanks to a lawsuit recently filed by the U.S. military, a wine and spirits store, known as "Black Nights," located near the gates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point will be changing its name.

According to the trademark infringement lawsuit filed by the United States government this week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Frank Carpentieri’s New York-based store, named “Black Nights,” infringes the U.S. military’s trademark for “Black Knights,” the latter of which refers to the nickname used since the 1940s by the U.S. Army’s athletic teams.

"The Department of the Army is highly concerned with the use of alcohol among its soldiers and is committed to deglamorizing its use," the complaint stated; and as a result of Carpentier’s use of the trademark, the Army alleges that it has suffered "irreparable injury" to the academy's goodwill and reputation.

"I thought I would be honoring the military" with the Black Nights name, Carpentieri said in a phone interview with Reuters. He further noted that he decided to change course after his lawyer warned that he might lose customers, and that "it's going to cost you tons of money to fight."

Not wanting to battle the U.S. in the legal matter, Carpentier said in a statement shortly after the filing of the lawsuit that he has already filed to change the name of the liquor store with a state regulator, and will stop displaying a flag bearing the West Point crest and other paraphernalia that the government said could be associated with the academy.

As of now, the lawsuit is still underway, despite Carpentieri’s move to rebrand his company.

The suit is not the first time the U.S. military has taken legal action in connection with its intellectual property. As a sophisticated business entity, the U.S. military holds an array of intellectual property rights, which range from copyright protections for its original camouflage prints to trademark rights in its specific names and logos. As noted by the New York Times a few years ago, “The military services do allow some use of their brands in exchange for a license fee. Since 2009, the Marines have collected $5.4 million in such fees, and [in 2013] their trademark office turned over $700,000 to a morale, welfare and recreation fund.”

“Because we’ve been in two wars in 10 years, we’ve had a lot of patriotism,” said Philip Greene, the Marines’ trademark counsel. Beginning in 2012, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all saw “a big spike in efforts to use military branding to sell goods and services,” military trademark lawyers told the Times, and unsurprisingly, the Pentagon and the various military branches’ legal teams do not take kindly to infringement of such rights.

Since 2014, the Pentagon’s trademark attorneys have been sending out cease-and-desist letters to protect their brands from unauthorized uses, and given the Army’s trademark rights, Forever 21, and other fast-fashion companies, may be next. This is because in addition to an array of federally registered trademarks for its star logo, the Army maintains a trademark for the word “Army” in connection with “Men's, women's, and children's clothing.” (There is, of course, an argument that the trademark is little more than a generic term).

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