UKIPO knocks undefeated Reds off their perch – The LIVERPOOL trade mark and lessons for brand owners

To the interest of many a scouser and football fan alike, Liverpool Football Club’s attempt to register as a UK trademark LIVERPOOL has been rejected by the UKIPO on the grounds that the word is of “geographical significance” to the city. Liverpool FC had filed its application in regards to various goods in relation to football and the filing had attracted significant public attention.

Other English football clubs (Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham) have managed to register several trade marks for each of their respective area names. In addition Southampton Football Club has managed to register SOUTHAMPTON as an EU trade mark. As a result, it is not surprising that Liverpool FC would seek to register a similar mark to help protect its valuable brand.

However, as a result of the filing the club received significant backlash from the people of Liverpool, including their own supporters, and – probably in a related move – Liverpool FC has said that it does not plan to appeal the refusal and it has withdrawn the application. An additional trade mark application for LIVERPOOL with different claims has also been withdrawn.

The matter presents a great case study for brand owners on balancing the need to protect their brand whilst being considerate of the potential adverse PR that will come with the application for certain trade marks.

Innovation in protecting your brand
Brand owners certainly need to adopt innovative tactics when looking to fight counterfeiters and to protect their brand and Liverpool FC has shown a keen eye to identifying new brand assets.

Liverpool FC may have been unsuccessful with this application but they recently successfully applied to trade mark the phrase “LET’S TALK ABOUT SIX BABY” in the UK. The saying was coined by Reds Manager Jürgen Klopp when he ended his run of six successive final defeats and claimed a first trophy as Liverpool FC’s manager with the UEFA Champions League triumph earlier this year. No doubt will form an important part of the club’s merchandise moving forward and is a cunning registration.

Consideration of PR implications
However, all innovative steps in brand protection must be considered in their context.

Liverpool FC argued that the trade mark application was purely “in the context of football products and services” and to stop counterfeiters from benefiting from the sale of counterfeit Liverpool FC products. However, this does raise the question as to why the existing portfolio of club name, mottos and logos would not be sufficient to defeat the majority of inauthentic products that are currently on the market.

In addition, the vitriol with which the application was greeted raises further queries concerning the club’s decision to apply to register the trade mark. The Liverpool FC supporters group ‘Spirit of Shankly’ called the UKIPO’s rejection of the application a “victory for common sense” and declared that the word LIVERPOOL belongs to the “city of Liverpool”. Supporters also took the decision to wear non-official items of clothing carrying the club’s name and logo during a match against Newcastle in protest.

As a result, the case highlights the perils brand owners face when pursuing a robust approach to protecting their brand, particularly when looking to register terms as trade marks with cultural significance. Applicants must bear in mind the negative PR that can accompany any new filing strategy.

By Simon Casinader and Niall Lavery

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