Staying Onside with FIFA: Trademarks and the World Cup

The World Cup attracts some of the biggest brand name sponsors in the world including Adidas, MacDonald’s, Sony and Budweiser.   FIFA official partners reportedly pay $20-50 million per event to take part as sponsors in the World Cup. This year the total financial contributions to FIFA by the 20 official business partners of the World Cup reached an estimated $1.4 billion.  Budweiser has even opened and branded a Budweiser Hotel in Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the tournament.

Keeping the official partners satisfied is a massive priority for FIFA.   After discussions with FIFA, the Brazilian government even went so far as to temporarily revoke legislation which prohibits distribution of alcohol in stadiums to allow Budweiser to sell beer on match day (popularly known as the “Budweiser Bill”).

Even the players are under the watchful eye of FIFA.   Neymar, a Brazilian player, was recently seen wearing Beats headphones, a direct competitor of Sony.  FIFA in response has now banned Beats headphones from stadiums on match day.

Protecting its registered trademarks is a task that FIFA undertakes with the utmost zeal and dedication:

“The FIFA Rights Holders will only invest in the 2014 FIFA World Cup if they are provided with this exclusivity for the use of the Official Marks … Thus, any unauthorised 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”.

FIFA has a wide variety of internationally registered trademarks including “FIFA”, “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil”, “2014 FIFA World Cup”, “Football World Cup”, “Soccer World Cup”, a slogan “ALL IN ONE RHYTHM”, “World Cup”, “World Cup 2014”, “Copa 2014”, “Copa Do Mundo”, “Brazil 2014” and any host city name in connection with 2014.  FIFA has also registered an official emblem, mascot, the world cup trophy and an “official look element”.  FIFA gives its official partners exclusive license to use these registered marks.

Recently FIFA published public guidelines for use of FIFA’s official marks which outlines various do’s and don’ts regarding use of its intellectual property.  It covers all aspects of advertising, use and publications.  Users are expressly prevented from using any of the official marks on their social media as an avatar.  Advertising and merchandise cannot use any registered marks, or confusingly similar marks, unless the advertisement comes from an official sponsor.  Even producing a t-shirt with “Brazil 2014” on the front may fall foul of FIFA’s trademark policy.

Brazil hosts other tournaments for other sports (basketball, volleyball, etc.).  These tournaments will be concluded later this year and it remains to be seen if the tournament organizers of these competitions will be prevented from using “Copa 2014” or “Brazil 2014” for their respective tournaments.

These guidelines must not be taken lightly.  Since May, FIFA has already sent 100 take down notices to Twitter users who have allegedly misused FIFA registered trademarks.  In the 2010 World Cup, FIFA filed a civil law suit against the beer company Bavaria for ambush marketing at the world cup, in addition to filing criminal charges against two of the organizers of the Bavaria marketing stunt.

Advertisers and fans alike will be restricted in what they can post on the web and in regards to the distribution of any non-official merchandise or promotion materials.  To avoid getting red-carded for trademark infringement, it would be advisable for any fan or business to show its patriotism and support without using any registered FIFA trademarks.  It is still possible to make generic merchandise or have promotions which do not directly reference the World Cup or any of its official marks.  Making a t-shirt with any participant country would not infringe the FIFA marks.

The Nike advertisement for the world cup is a very good example of advertising which does not infringe FIFA trademarks.  The previous video is clearly an advertisement for the World Cup, yet there is no direct reference to FIFA’s official marks.  As such there is no infringement despite not being an official sponsor of the tournament.