IP, Technology & Data

Gold medals are only part of the equation for young sports stars. What should they think about in legal terms?

When Mo Farah does his famous Mobot and Usain Bolt performs his signature lightning strike pose, legal protection is unlikely to be the first thought that comes to mind.

This is an opportunity for the athletes to capitalise on their hard work and dedication. But ensuring such sporting personalities have an effective brand strategy and adequate legal protection in place should be a top consideration.

Farah and Bolt have clearly been well advised when it comes to protecting their lucrative brands, with their signature moves registered as trade marks. But it is also vital that up and coming sports people have a brand management and protection strategy from the outset. Ultimately this will enable them to capitalise on their hard work and dedication, particularly when they come to discuss deals with agents and sponsors. If a sports person does not implement a proper brand management strategy at the outset, that can become problematic.

Brand protection is of real commercial value as it can generate revenue through endorsements, sponsorship and licensing. There are various ways for individuals and organisations to protect their brands, with two of the main methods being trade marks and effective management of image rights.

Another is the common law of passing off to help prevent an organisation’s or person’s reputation being compromised.

Trade marks act as a badge of origin and give consumers reassurance that a product is genuine. A registered trade mark lets the owner bring a legal action against unauthorised third parties using it.

Image rights are the proprietary rights that an individual has, along with unique characteristics associated with their personality.

Trade mark registration lies at the heart of brand protection strategies for both sporting organisations and individuals, and the likes of a person’s name and signature can be registered.

Such strategies aren’t as new as people might think. The first sports personality to register their signature was tennis legend Fred Perry back in 1965.

Since then numerous athletes have registered both their names and their signatures, including Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Wayne Rooney and Lewis Hamilton.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets it right. When football manager Jose Mourinho was appointed as manager of Manchester United his move was delayed because his former club Chelsea retained his image rights, including his signature, which they acquired and commercialised when he joined the London club.

As a result, Chelsea was in a position to demand a significant amount of money from Manchester United.

Clearly then complications arise when a sports person allows third parties to own their trade mark.

The overriding message for organisations and individuals is look after your trade marks and your trade marks will look after the brand.

Andy Nolan