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Within the sports industry, there is a variety of intellectual property (IP). From broadcasters to manufacturers, from athletes to organizers, and from corporate sponsors to sports federations, IP plays a vital role throughout sports in establishing and maintaining brand identity.
As a result, it is important for sports brands of all sizes to know how to deal with trademarks and trademark infringers. Every year, around 500€ million of revenue is lost to IP infringement in the sports industry. As more money is lost to infringers, concerns around trademark infringement in sports continue to grow.
Trademark infringement directly impacts jobs in the sports industry, as well as the revenue and reputation of brands of all sizes. So, how can your sports brand combat the damaging effects of trademark infringement?
In this blog, we will be exploring the impact of trademark infringement in the sports industry by highlighting a number of topics including:
Within the sports industry, there is a great variety of brands. Sports teams, athletes, federations, fitness product manufacturers, broadcasters, leagues, and sports accessory businesses are just a few of the key brands within the sports market. All of these brands can be targeted by trademark infringers in different ways which can result in a variety of negative impacts.
Trademark infringement occurs in the sports industry when someone uses, adapts, distributes, reproduces, or sells logos, labels, merchandise, and phrases without the permission of the trademark owner and this activity causes consumers to be confused as to the source of the products, items or images that carry the trademark.
For example, Cool Brands Supply, an Argentine lifestyle and skateboard company, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit claiming that a logo used by LIV Golf and professional golfer, Phil Mickelson, was a knockoff version of their trademarked Fallen Footwear logo. The suit accused LIV of using the copied logo on a variety of clothing merchandise items.
One of the most common trademark violations in sports is the unauthorized use of distinctive team logos and signs. Infringers will take a sports team’s logo or a sports brand’s sign and put it on unauthorized merchandise and products.
In recent times, this has even extended to digital products like NFTs. In 2022, an Italian court ruled in favor of the football club Juventus who claimed that a company that marketed NFT digital playing cards was using images of a player featuring trademarked Juventus signs without permission.
Another common trademark violation in sports is when scammers sell counterfeit merchandise like shirts, hats, and balls featuring trademarked content to consumers. This is big business in the sports world. The demand for branded sports kits is high and the price for official team and brand merchandise is often quite expensive.
Therefore there is a lot of potential money to be made by scammers who produce cheap, unauthorized versions of sports merchandise. In 2022, the IPR Center seized $97.8 million in counterfeit sports clothing and other merchandise. The Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI) found that fake sports equipment costs the sports industry at least €500 million every year.
Here are a few of the steps you can take to quickly detect trademark infringement in sports so that you can protect your brand.
The first step you should take is to register your trademarks at the appropriate intellectual property office. If your sports brand is based in the US or you want to protect your trademarks in the US you can register your work at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The cost of filing for a trademark will depend on whether or not you’re currently using your trademark in commerce and the class of goods or services in your application. If you’re filing a TEAS Standard initial application, you’ll pay $350 per class of goods or services. By registering your trademark you will have a great foundation to defend your brand from infringers and pursue them via legal channels.
You must also file documents to maintain your registration. For example, every ten years you will need to submit a declaration of use and/or excusable nonuse and an application for renewal which has a filing fee of $525 per class of goods or services.
To continue to protect your trademarks you will also need to actively monitor how they are being used throughout the sports industry both online and offline. One way to monitor your trademarks is to conduct searches on social media platforms, marketplaces, and search engines.
You should also pay particular attention to the regular peaks in online activity that occur when sports games and events are being broadcast live. This is the time to be vigilant and identify potential trademark infringers through targeted keyword and image searches.
The sports industry is unique in the way consumers invest in organizations, teams, and players. As a sports brand, you must consider this and use fan engagement to your advantage.
Talk to sports fans and ask them about issues around IP infringement. Consumer education is a vital way to protect your brand because fans will act as your first line of defense. The more they know about IP infringement the easier it will be for them to protect themselves from scammers. As they learn to spot infringements, they will also be able to notify you when they see any potential violations.
If you’ve licensed your brand or certain trademarks to third parties, ensure you have a clear and stringent licensing agreement in place. Periodically review and audit these agreements and the activities of the licensees in case of misuse or terms overstepping.
Your sports brand may be being targeted by bad actors on marketplaces or social media. For example, they might be selling counterfeit versions of your sports products on Amazon or they might be using your logo on Instagram without your authorization.
To address these kinds of issues you can use the internal reporting process of marketplaces and social media platforms to start getting these infringers removed. Any report must be submitted with evidence (screenshots, records of correspondence, online activity, etc.) Usually, you will also need to show that your sports brand owns the trademarks in question.
A more formal way to directly address potential infringement is to send a cease and desist letter to the infringer. This letter is a pre-action legal tool. It will assert your IP rights, inform the party that they may be violating your trademarks, and warn them that if they do not stop their actions you will begin legal action.
This is a common tactic that will give your brand a good foundation for pursuing bad actors via legal routes. It can act as a deterrent to infringers and encourage them to stop targeting your sports brand.
You can also report trademark infringement to the relevant government authority. Trademark violations constitute IP crimes and will be taken seriously by government authorities. However, reporting infringers does not guarantee an investigation. To ensure tangible steps are made you should also focus on filing a lawsuit if appropriate in the circumstances.
For large-scale trademark infringement, an automated brand protection solution is essential. Red Points offers such a solution specifically tailored for sports brands. With tools to detect social media impersonators, deceptive schemes, fraudulent websites, and counterfeit products, Red Points ensures your brand’s integrity and revenue are protected. This automation is especially efficient and cost-effective for addressing large-scale infringements.
Here’s how our system works:
We help you get ready to tackle trademark infringers through our onboarding process. We also configure the platform to your brand’s needs to ensure that you are able to upload your sports IP rights and create automation rules that are ideal for your business.
Our system is powered by machine learning algorithms and AI processes. This means that we are constantly working on finding new infringements on marketplaces and platforms.
Once we have found potential violations we work swiftly to confirm whether or not they contain sports trademark infringements. You can review these cases manually or automate the process by allowing our Managed Services team to decide the best way to approach the situation.
Then we will work to remove these trademark infringers by asking marketplaces and social media platforms to take down any infringing listings, posts, and accounts.
You will then be able to uncover repeat infringers, identify high priorities, focus on specific regions, and measure the overall impact of your actions.
Red Points’ enforcement success rate against infringers of sports brand IP is an excellent 93.5%. Having taken down over 1.3 million infringements and enforced around $1.3 billion worth of infringements last year, Red Points is uniquely equipped to deal with any large-scale trademark issues that your sports brand might be dealing with.
A proactive approach to trademark infringement in the sports industry will help you protect your brand, your revenue, and your customers. If you allow infringers to violate your IP via misuse, counterfeits, and malicious products
A specialized, automated solution will help you address trademark infringement in the sports industry with efficiency and accuracy. With just a few steps you can eliminate fraudulent websites, counterfeit products, and social media impersonators that threaten your brand’s trademarks.
To learn more about how Red Points can safeguard your sports brands from trademark infringement, please request a demo here.