World Cup Trademarks:

Congratulations to Spain for winning the World Cup in soccer. But the big money winner is theFédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the marketing of the event. TheHollywood Reporter said that 700 million people worldwide watched the World Cup 2010 yesterday.

About 24 million Americans watched Spain win the World Cup over the Netherlands, while 106.5 million viewers in the US  watched theNew Orleans Saints‘ 31-17 upset of theIndianapolis Colts on Superbowl Sunday on CBS.

So I got to wondering about how the trademark for the World Cup was being used, registered and protected around the world. I found a blog called the Worldcupblog.org which reported that FIFA owned a slew of trademark registrations/applications for many different trademarks all over the world. I searched the USPTO webpage and found that there were 150 trademark registrations/applications owned by the organization known as FIFA.

I also found that back in 2006 the World Cup Blog had their wrist slapped by the attorneys of FIFA for what they considered inappropriate use of the trademarks. Although the blog didn’t agree with FIFA that their use was inappropriate, in fact the blog considered the use to be a promotion of the event. See how they comically recite why they took down the trademark as requested,

“We have complied with FIFA’s request but not because we agree in the least with their draconian rules. We are just nice people and the only lawyer we could afford to hire to represent us in this dispute was our brother-in-law whose entire legal education comes from watching Perry Mason, LA Law and Law and Order.”

Google posted an innocuous drawing on their famous search engine search page. You can see they clearly tried not to infringe on any FIFA trademark. But do you think that the FIFA organization profited by the exposure on Google yesterday?

There have been many examples of overzealous attorneys sending cease and desist letters, the funniest one was the “other white meat” April fools ad for unicorn meat by Thinkgeek.com. In the Unicorn case there was a 12 page letter telling Think Geek Inc. how the National Pork Board was injured by the sale of unicorn meat.

So what does trademark registration protect? Non-commercial use of another’s trademark is not actionable as dilution. What is fair use? A trademark can be used when the use does not suggest sponsorship or association with the trademark owner’s product or services and therefore is not being used in a manner to confuse the reader.

Use of another’s trademark is not considered to be infringement if it falls under one of the following categories of permissible use:

  • Fair Use – this is most commonly seen in comparative advertising; i.e. “In a blind taste test, our cola ranked higher among consumers than Coca-Cola or Pepsi.”
  • First Sale Doctrine – Protects resellers/repackagers – this is illustrated by auction websites like Ebay. Resellers frequently list items using another’s trademark without authorization, i.e. selling genuine Windows software without being an authorized distributor/retailer.
  • Use in parody or speech – does anybody remember Weird Al Yankovic?

Idea Expression Dichotomy:

A principle of copyright law that “ideas” that are the fruit of an author’s labors go into the public domain, while only the author’s particular expression remains the author’s to control.

International Agreement:

Includes the following: The Universal Copyright Convention; Geneva Phonograms Convention; Berne Convention; WTO Agreement; WIPO Copyright Treaty; WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty; and any other copyright Treaty to which the United States is a party.