The use of sports teams’ logos on merchandise is another perceived David v. Goliath trademark issue, pitting the greedy team owners against the small businessman who merely wants to provide the fan with the opportunity to express his/her allegiance to his/her favorite team, with logo merchandise at popular prices.
Arsenal, not quite in the same league (fame-wise, not soccer-wise) as ManUtd, sued some guy who hung out near the stadium selling scarves which said ARSENAL on them. He made it clear that these were unauthorized.
The British High Court (Laddie, J) had said: The logos on the stuff were for the fans to demonstrate their allegiance to the team, and not to designate the origin of the goods. The use was descriptive, and not infringing. Arsenal appealed to the European Court of Justice.
The Advocate General for the ECJ issued his opinion this week: it doesn’t matter how the fan will use the goods, they bought it the merchandise because it has the trademark on it. If the reproduction is unauthorized, then its trademark infringement. Note: the Advocate General’s opinion can be affirmed or ignored by the Court itself (although it’s predicted it will affirm).
Special bonus to those who read the opinion: the Advocate General is obviously a soccer fan, and drafted a little economic history of soccer. In fact, one almost gets the sense that he came down on the owners’ side because soccer teams tend to be broke. Use “Arsenal” as a search term after clicking here.