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Manchester United Limited in Video Game Trade Mark Battle

In a case that highlights the importance to large companies of being able to control and monetise their brands, Manchester United have initiated trade mark infringement proceedings against the makers of the hugely popular Football Manager series of games. The action is based on the fact that the club name is used extensively throughout the game.

Manchester United’s legal team have stated, with justification, that they are one of the world’s most valuable and recognisable brands. They say that Manchester United makes very significant income from licensing its name and logos as companies want to be associated with their ‘winning culture’.

Somewhat unusually the claim is made on the basis that the trade mark for the club logo is infringed as the official crest is not used in the game. Instead it is replaced with a simplified red and white stripe logo, presumably to avoid the payment of a license fee. This is common practice for the Football Manager game which would presumably otherwise be faced with the payment of prohibitive license fees to every football club that features in its extensive database. United however say that this deprives them of their right to have the club crest licensed and amounts to wrongful use of their trade mark.

The main line of defence from the makers of the game appears to be that they have used the club’s name in the game since 1992 without any complaint from Manchester United. They also say that the use of the name is a legitimate reference to a football team in a football context and the action is merely an attempt to restrict legitimate competition in the video game field by stopping the use of the Manchester United name in games which do not hold a license.

It will be interesting to see how this develops as the legal arguments advanced are novel and the implications are potentially huge both for video game makers and also for football clubs who will undoubtedly want to maximise their revenue streams during this time. Regardless of the outcome this case demonstrates the importance of having a strong brand and how this can provide valuable additional revenue streams. If you have any questions around brand protection or exploiting your brand do not hesitate to contact the team at Baines Wilson on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.

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