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​Bats, balls and bed sheets — the world of cricket trade mark trolls

Would you wear a pair of Freddie Flintoff shoes? Would you sleep in a Shane Warne bed sheet? Many in the cricket industry are looking to take advantage of intellectual property (IP) rights. Welcome to the (slightly mad) world of cricket trade marks…

The importance of registering trade marks

When registering a trade mark in any industry, it’s important to think further afield than your home country. With a sport like cricket, which has a global appeal and an especially large following in countries like India, ensuring your rights are protected around the world is vital.

With all sports stars, there will be individuals who would like to use an athlete’s success on the pitch to make a profit from it. Ultimately, you should be able to profit from your own popularity and success by registering trade marks around the world. This puts you in the advantageous position of being able to license your trade marks to those who would like to profit from your popularity. You also have the benefit of overseeing exactly how your marks are used.

Unfortunate cricket trade marks

Many trade marks which feature players’ names are often registered without their knowledge. Here are some of my favourite examples, which can all be viewed on the Indian Intellectual Property Office’s website.

  • England’s test captain, Joe Root, likely won’t be happy to find out that his name has been registered for ready-made garments (Trade mark No. 3454664 in Class 35, 3454663 in Class 25).
  • The saviour of the 2005 Ashes series, Mr ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, has his last name registered in the mark FLINTOFF SHOES (Trademark No. 3249272 in Class 25, 3249271 in Class 35). (Who is he) Ricky Ponting’s last name has also been registered for footwear (Trade mark No. 2034843 in Class 25).
  • One innovative individual combined arguably one of the most feared fast bowlers in history, Courtney Walsh, with the best leg-spinner to play the sport, Shane Warne, to register the mark WALSH AND WARNE (Trade Mark No. 1545506 in Class 18, 1545494 in Class 14, 1545512 in Class 24, 1545517 in Class 25) for a range of goods, including bed sheets.

It seems apparent that no prior consent was given by Flintoff and co. However, there are mechanisms for individuals to challenge registrations, especially if applications are made in bad faith and there’s an obvious attempt to take advantage of someone’s reputation.

Trade marks may also be subject to cancellations for non-use, but whether there’s use of a mark or not, such ‘trade mark trolls’ certainly have the intent to profit from a cricketer’s popularity and success.

An important lesson

Some people in cricket are getting it right when it comes to trade mark registrations.

In a more positive move, the English supporter group commonly known as the ‘Barmy Army’ has taken the correct approach by registering a number of marks comprising the words BARMY ARMY in both the UK and India. So, thankfully, we won’t be seeing that on any unsuspecting bedroom furnishings in the near future.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) also took the smart decision to apply for overseas trade marks to protect its rights to a new format of cricket (‘The Hundred’) set to be introduced in 2020. The new tournament is designed to attract "a younger audience and new fans" and the ECB has applied to register the words ‘The Hundred’ in the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

However, the BBC reported that overseas trade marks could mean that the ECB can demand payment from other international boards that want to play a version of the 100-ball format. However, this is incorrect — you cannot trade mark a particular format of cricket. The ECB holds trade marks for ‘T20’, yet there are a variety of leagues around the world that play this type of cricket, one of them being the prestigious Indian Premier League (IPL). The only thing that the ECB can trade mark is the name ‘The Hundred’ in relation to the new format.

Famous cricket trade marks

Aside from the trolls, in India, it’s also very common for a major brand to officially associate itself with a cricketer. For example, Virat Kohli made over £10m after signing an eight-year bat sponsorship deal with MRF, the largest manufacturer of tyres in India. Although what a tyre company has to do with cricket, I have no idea.

There are a number of other famous trade marks in cricket that you may not be aware of. Many cricketers have also pounced on the opportunity to reap commercial benefits from registering their own name or logo. Here are a few examples:

  • ’63 not-out’ was registered in memory of Phillip Hughes. He was an Australian Batsmen who was on the score 63 runs when he got struck on the neck by the ball. As a result, he tragically passed away two days later. There were a lot of tributes across all forms of social media where supporters would post a picture of a cricket bat with the caption #63NotOut. This was purely a defensive registration to prevent others trying to exploit his memory.
  • Sachin Tendulkar has the biggest portfolio, with 78 registered trade marks comprising his name and logos in India. This means that he holds the records for scoring the most runs and registering the most trade marks in cricket history (personally, I’d vouch for the latter being the greater achievement!).
  • Kevin Pietersen has registered the trade mark #24 BY KEVIN PIETERSON.
  • The best leg-spinner to ever grace the game, Shane Warne, has registered the marks SHANE WARNE and THE SHANE WARNE COLLECTION for a whole range of merchandise.
  • Wasim Akram, the man that brought ‘reverse-swing’ into mainstream cricket, has WASIM AKRAM 414 J. registered as part of a joint project with major Pakistani fashion label Junaid Jamshed.
  • English cricketing legend Ian Botham has SIR IAN BOTHAM registered as part of new range of wines with Benchmark Drinks Ltd and, in 1982, he registered the mark ATTACK WITH IAN BOTHAM, though this has now expired.

Surprising marks that haven’t been registered

Being a huge cricket fan, I was surprised to find many player nicknames that haven’t been registered as trade marks by the player or team they played for.

Two of my favourites would be:

  • ‘Rawalpindi Express’ — this nickname was given to Shoaib Akhtar, one of the most widely-renowned cricketers from Pakistan and the first bowler to break the 100mph barrier. He managed this feat twice and, as if that wasn’t enough, set the record for the fastest bowl ever against England (I still don’t know how Nick Knight managed to see it). He was nicknamed ‘Rawalpindi Express’ due to his origin in Pakistan and the blistering pace of his bowling. This would have been a perfect opportunity to trade mark the phrase and sell merchandise affixing the mark.
  • ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ — Shahid Afridi is one of the most charismatic characters both on and off the cricket field. He has been forever known as ‘Boom Boom Afridi’ for his ability to take apart opposition bowling attacks with his six-hitting skills. Crowds in support of the star used to roar the words ‘Boom Boom’ whenever he came onto the field, especially when he came into bat. This would have been another big opportunity to sell merchandise affixing the mark.

Trade marks stop trolls

Since Rupert Murdoch’s £1.97 billion purchase of the five-year global media rights to the IPL back in 2017, the amount of interest and money in cricket worldwide has risen immensely. It’s now more important than ever for cricketers and their teams to register names and logos as trade marks, to ensure that trade mark trolls can’t capitalise off their hard-earned popularity.

If you’re interested in registering trade marks to protect your personal brand, feel free to get in touch with Gareth Price at gip@udl.co.uk. You can find out more about trade marks in general here.

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