World Cup, Intellectual Property & Brand Infringement

It’s really an understatement to say that the FIFA World Cup™ is an event staged on a scale of mammoth proportions. FIFA itself describes it as “the largest single sports event and most-watched competition on earth”. It therefore enjoys phenomenal interest from sports fans and the business world alike.

The revenue generated by licensees associated with this high-profile, global sporting event is massive. FIFA and the local organizing committee have sold sponsorship rights to the month-long event to 20 companies whose combined involvement is $1.4 billion through a mixture of direct cash payments and services. Coca Cola Co., one of FIFA’s longest-tenured sponsors, is providing 5 million beverages for the tournament and Hyundai Motor Co. will deliver 1,400 vehicles to transport officials and teams in 12 host cities. In return FIFA grants certain FIFA World Cup-related rights to these stakeholders (“Rights Holders”).

With football fever on the rise as we near this year’s World Cup kick off in Rio de Janeiro next month, some businesses may feel tempted to weave the event into their marketing campaigns in order to attract some of the football feel good factor to their brand.

Taking advantage of any upcoming sporting event as a marketing platform – or indeed an event with the magnitude of BRAZIL 2014 – might seem like a ‘no brainer’, but when it comes to the World Cup, businesses should proceed with extreme caution, or more to the point, see the writing on the big old red stop sign up ahead!

World Cup organizers have a strict licensing programme in place to protect the brand and its licensees, who invest huge amounts of money in sponsorship and other affiliation packages. Use of FIFA’s World Cup branding and trademarks are strictly prohibited by unlicensed third parties.

So, when it comes to brand association with the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it should come as no real surprise that the governing body FIFA takes an aggressive stance with copyright infringing companies. As a business looking to capitalize on the World Cup hype, throwing caution to the wind and thinking that you can fly under the radar of FIFA’s watchful eye could not only find you falling foul of FIFA’s good graces, but land you in court.

Any attempt to “ambush” the event by building it into your marketing or communications strategies could see the business being sued for trade mark infringement and liable for any damages, which could prove costly financially and impact your corporate reputation.

Section 1 of FIFA’s Public Guidelines for Use of FIFA’s Official Marks explains why it is important to protect the exclusivity of the FIFA Rights Holders: “Any unauthorized use of the Official Marks not only undermines the integrity of the FIFA World Cup™ and its marketing programme, but also puts the interests of the worldwide football community at stake…If anyone could use the Official Marks for free and create an association with the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, there would be no reason to become a Rights Holder.”

In the first half of 2013 alone, Auke-Jan Bossenbroek, FIFA’s legal counsel responsible for protecting the Zurich-based organization’s trademarks, confirms action was taken against 100 companies that did not have permission to use protected words or logos related to the World Cup.

So, be aware that around World Cup time even more so, FIFA’s legal counsel are looking for companies that are breaking the rules and don’t respect the public guidelines set out to protect the integrity of the FIFA World Cup, its marketing program, and the exclusivity of FIFA’s Rights Holders, its partners and sponsors. FIFA clearly has a responsibility to its Rights Holders who have invested quite a significant amount of money to be part of the event, and they are fiercely protective of these rights at its flagship competition.

FIFA has developed and protected a variety of logos, words, titles, symbols and other trademarks that it will use or allow other licensed Rights Holders to use, in relation to the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, which it calls the “Official Marks”.

You can find a complete list online of these Official Marks, Emblem, Mascot, Slogan, Official Look Element, FIFA World Cup Trophy, Poster, Fan Fest Logo, Protected Terms, and Logo that are protected in Brazil and territories around the world by trade mark registration and/or copyright laws and/or other laws of intellectual property such as unfair competition or passing off. View the full document titled “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ – FIFA Public Guidelines for use of FIFA’s Official Marks” via the website.

We recommend that you take the time to familiarize yourself with what is acceptable and what is not permitted in terms of piggy-back marketing when it comes to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

Author: Digital Fuel

Words by the Digital Fuel team members