LeBron James and Carnival Corporation, Owner of the Carnival Cruise Line, End Dispute Concerning KING JAMES Trademark

by Josh H. Escovedo
The IP Law Blog

In 2019, Carnival Corporation, the owner of the Carnival Cruise Line, attempted to register KING JAMES in connection with a wide variety of services, including retail store services, various retail goods, cruise-ship services, sports, entertainment, banquet services, beauty and health care, and much more. According to Carnival, it planned to name its newest ship King James, and the application seems to indicate that Carnival also planned to use the KING JAMES mark in connection with various other goods and services onboard the ship. As you can imagine, a prominent figure took issue with Carnival’s plan. That figure was none other than LeBron James, or as those in the sports world have known him for over a decade, King James.

On November 18, 2020, James filed an opposition proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board seeking to preclude Carnival’s registration of KING JAMES with respect to “sport bags, gym bags, sports bags,  . . . gymnastics and sporting articles . . .”, and “providing sports facilities; organizing of sports competitions and sports events; providing facilities for recreational activities; . . . providing facilities for recreation.” James’s attorneys argued that Carnival’s use of KING JAMES in connection with those goods and services would create a false suggestion of connection with LeBron James due to James’s “reputation as a world-famous basketball player, and [because] the use of ‘King James’ as an identification of LeBron James, [is] so well[-]known[.]” Eight days later, Carnival expressly abandoned its application with prejudice, presumably as a result of a settlement with LeBron James.

It’s unclear whether Carnival plans to refile its application but omit the goods and services challenged by Mr. James. Presumably, if Carnival did that, LeBron James wouldn’t oppose the registration, and it’s possible that the mark would register. Carnival would then be able to name its new cruise ship KING JAMES. But given that Carnival chose to withdraw the entire application instead of agreeing to amend the scope of the goods and services in connection with which it plans to use KING JAMES, it seems Carnival may be abandoning the idea altogether. If they wanted to use the ship name on various goods and services offered throughout the cruise ship—other than the relatively narrow set of goods and services challenged by James—it seems to me that Carnival would still have been able to do so. That slight modification doesn’t seem like a big deal to me, but it appears the executives at Carnival thought differently. Of course, I could be off base, and maybe Carnival plans to refile the application while omitting the challenged services, but that would be an inefficient way to address the situation. Either way, Carnival—like the majority of the NBA—was reluctant to go to battle with the king, and who can blame them?