Covering trademark nonsense, our posts tend to intersect regularly with the world of sports. It’s relatively common at this point to witness teams and even entire leagues pulling anti-fan trademark stunts, from athletes trademarking their own nicknames no matter the fallout, to leagues considering messing with the trademark applications of video game companies, up to and including iconic baseball teams managing to trademark the derisive nickname given to them by other teams. It’s all very, very stupid.
Across the pond, however, teams in the Premier League have somehow managed to get trademarks on their home-city’s names. Chelsea FC, for instance, has a trademark for “Chelsea” related specifically to football services and merch. This sort of thing is almost never allowed here in the States, but it’s become enough of a thing that Liverpool FC is attempting the same move for “Liverpool” and it’s pissing off a whole bunch of people.
As was the case with Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC insists its mark will be very narrow.
The Reds stress their application is “only in the context of football products and services”, and intended to protect both the club and the supporters “from those benefiting from inauthentic products”.
There are a couple of problems with this. For starters, the general public has apparently become educated enough on the practices of trademark abuse to want to push back on the application themselves. Given how ignorant the general public has long been on how broad trademarks can be abused, this is rather encouraging to see.
A petition has been launched on Change.org that, at the time of writing, had already gathered more than 850 signatures in the space of a few hours.
It said: “This petition is to keep [the word Liverpool] for all people of Merseyside to use without a solicitor’s letter dropping through your door. Do the right thing. Let’s stop this.”
Twitter user Azul wrote: “The club only need see how unpopular this is with its own fans to realise their greed is going too far. Not everyone has the budget for official merchandise, and there’s many making a living from this. Turn it in lads.”
Negative feedback from the public goes on from there, including from local ward Councillors. But you have to also wonder just what the granting of such a trademark would do to City of Liverpool FC, an independent club that plays in the Northern Premier League.
City of Liverpool FC, who play in the Northern Premier League, called the move “outrageous” on Twitter. A spokesman for the club told the ECHO : “Our club is one of many that will be affected by this trademark application made by Liverpool FC. We as an ambitious and independent football club feel that we are entitled to use the name of our city in our name. We understand that LFC may not have intended to threaten the future of our club, but that is an effect of this application, but even just on a moral basis, we don’t think any private business should be able to own the word ‘Liverpool’ – it simply does not belong to them.”
Beyond any moral concerns, this is exactly why many trademark systems put such a high bar on attempts to trademark geographic terms. That term is typically more widely used than any kind of creatively inspired name or term, as is the case here. For a given industry, never mind something as popular as football in the UK, there is likely more than one player in a geographic area. Allowing any one of them to gobble up the rights to a geographic term for that entire industry, even an industry as narrow as football, is insane.
Fellow Twitter user John Furlong called for a campaign against the “ridiculous idea”, adding: “The name of the city does not belong to any one individual or group.”
Not so in the case of Chelsea, as we’ve said. But that’s a problem, not a precedent worth repeating.
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