The respective finals of the European football competitions, UEFA Champions League and Europa League, are some of the most viewed sporting events in the world and in 2019, for only the third and fourth time respectively in the sport’s history, a European final will be an all-English contest.

These types of grand international sporting events offer an exceptional platform for businesses to promote their products or services in conjunction with the sport itself, the teams involved or even particular stars of the sport. However, businesses that frantically scramble in an attempt to benefit from this can, and often will, get caught by one of the many intellectual property traps which leads to claims of infringement.

Counterfeit goods

A common and emotional sight at these types of events is fans, singing arm-in-arm, whilst sporting their team’s shirt, or brandishing a club scarf above their head. The reality of this sight is that a lot of these fans get stung by counterfeit goods, which are all too common and cause significant brand damage, particularly by infringing on the club’s IP. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) owns a litany of registered trade marks which appear on all manner of clothing and memorabilia. However, unless they are sold through an official retailer or have been appropriately licenced, those items will be infringing on the trade marks.

Marketing issues

As a result of the massive television exposure these types of sporting events attract, companies will often use it as an opportunity to deploy an “ambush” style of marketing. This may involve providing spectators with clothing and accessories, such as t-shirts or caps, bearing the company’s brand but also emblazoned with the sporting event’s logo, in the hope that this will be caught on TV. This type of marketing is often promptly quashed by event organisers, but not before infringement issues become apparent.

Businesses may also fall foul of infringement by associating other marketing strategies with these finals merely through the use of the names. “UEFA Champions League” and “UEFA Europa League” are both registered trade marks which cover a broad scope of classes, from soaps and cosmetic products, to alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. It even covers credit cards and telecommunications. Given the broad nature of the products and services covered by these registered trade marks, not just within the UK but globally, it is very easy for businesses to get caught for unauthorised use of the logos or word marks. Even where such marks are used in connection with marketing online or indirectly through social media posts, it may give rise to liability for infringement.

Any business that is looking to utilise the international exposure that sporting events, such as the European football finals, provides must be aware of the rules governing the use of third party branding.

Monopoly of designs

Football kits are designed to be identifiable, different and to stand out and, in some cases, become iconic as a result. More often than not, kit manufacturers such as Nike or Adidas will utilise registered design rights in respect of the kits they create in order to prevent copying. This allows the company to own a monopolistic right over the design or pattern which may appear on that kit.

The consequences of this can be far reaching, resulting in products which may considered outside the standard scope of football, such as wallets or handbags, to be infringing on the registered design rights. Patterns like those which are used on football shirts can also appear in everyday life, whether copied on purpose or incidentally, leading to potential infringement claims.

As it is a relatively inexpensive form of intellectual property protection, businesses and sports teams alike often turn to registered design right to protect a vast amount of products, whether that be the clothing they wear or the equipment they use.

If you have any queries about aligning yourself with sporting events, conducting trade mark clearance or design register searches to ensure that you are not infringing other third party rights, or any other issues connected with IP and sports, please contact Tom Chartres-Moore, an Associate in the IP/IT team, on 01392 210700 or by emailing ip-it@stephens-scown.co.uk