Five cases where intellectual property rights proved a winner in Scottish sport

Whether you follow the Old Firm or would rather watch Andy Murray lifting the Wimbledon trophy, the likelihood is you’ve not considered the intellectual property rights that have protected their off-field commercial growth.

Today is World IP day and with this year’s theme being Reach for Gold: IP and Sports, it’s an opportune time to think about the legal mechanisms that harness and protect Scotland’s sporting brands, while avoiding own goals.

Here are five cases in which players keeping their eye on the IP ball reaped the benefits.

1. When Rangers trade marks help keep the club afloat

At the start of 2016, Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley held a host of Rangers and club-related trade marks and logos as security against a £5 million emergency loan taken by the club. Ashley gave the Ibrox club the money to help them remain solvent – but it came with a string of conditions which included security over the club’s famous RFC scroll crest trade mark.

Last year the club vigorously protected its lucrative RFC trade mark against unofficial merchandise seller Russell Campbell who claimed the letters RFC weren’t exclusive to the Glasgow club. However, the UK Intellectual Property Office disagreed, finding in favour of the Rangers and ordering Campbell to contribute towards the club’s legal costs.

Similarly, Celtic FC won a court order to stop a Glasgow business called Timland from selling merchandise bearing official Celtic logos. The shop owners were told that they were infringing some of the 55 trade marks owned by the club, including ‘Celtic’, ‘The Bhoys’, and the club crest.


2. Wimbledon champ successfully protects his name

Just after winning his first Wimbledon title in 2013, Andy Murray filed an application to trade mark his own name and protect his money-spinning image rights. The move undoubtedly helped him to build his brand in subsequent years and prevent others from capitalising on his fame.

The UK Intellectual Property Office agreed that his name met the legal criteria for a registered trade mark in that it was considered a sign or brand name which distinguished his goods and/or services from those of his competitors. The trade mark covered goods and services including, amongst other things, clothing, footwear, computer games, soft toys, education and even sports coaching services.

3. The Sky’s the legal limit

Broadcasters of Scottish sport are committed to protecting pubs which invest in legitimate TV subscriptions, including SPFL matches being shown exclusively on Sky Sports and BT Sport. In fact, the Scottish Premiership will be shown only on Sky Sports from 2020, after the SPFL agreed to a new broadcast deal worth around £160m to the Scottish clubs.

This month, Sky demonstrated its commitment to battling illegal streaming by instituting a successful action against the Crown Hotel in Newmilns, Ayrshire. Premises Licence Holder and manager Andrew Lynn was ordered to pay £10,000 in damages for infringing Sky’s copyright by illegally showing Sky Sports programming at his premises.


4. Heraldic laws might be more powerful than you think

Some cases have shown the importance of bearing in mind the legal implications that may arise as a result of a sports club’s crest – and not all crest cases relate to infringements of IP. The vast majority of crests are successfully covered by copyright, but in 2015, Ayr United FC was reported to have been threatened with legal action after being told its badge breached ancient heraldic law. The crest was alleged to be an unregistered coat of arms, and the club subsequently overhauled its badge in order to avoid legal action.

5. Pastry wars in Kilmarnock

Two years ago, Kilmarnock FC had a legal dispute with a local baker over its famous Killie pie. Brownings Bakers, made the much-loved half-time snack for 13 years before ending its relationship with the Rugby Park club. However, Kilmarnock had a trade mark for the name ‘Killie’ dating back to 1998, and when a battle ensued over who would get to use the famous name, the club emerged successful, proving the value of having a robust trade mark portfolio in place.

Noelle Pearson is a trainee trademark attorney at Marks & Clerk LLP , the UK-wide intellectual property attorney which has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow


Leave a Reply