The Perversion Of Trademarks: Jose Mourinho Can't Coach Man-U Yet Because Former Club Trademarked His Name

from the great dept

Usually when we talk about professional or college sports participants running into trademark issues, it has to do with the nicknames they have taken on and either attempted to trademark for themselves, or prohibit others from using. But the case of soccer coach Jose Mourinho is different in that respect: at issue is his own, natural name. And, to truly see how trademark has been perverted from its original purpose, one can simply watch Mourinho, who was supposed to take the helm of Manchester United, have his hiring delayed because another team he formerly coached holds the trademark for his name.

It has emerged that Chelsea still own his name as a trademark and could demand a six-figure sum from United before any deal is concluded. However, the issue will not scupper his appointment at Old Trafford. Chelsea registered ‘Jose Mourinho’ and his signature as a European trademark in 2005, which means they can use it to sell merchandise such as toiletries, technology, clothing and jewellery.

Sports lawyer Carol Couse told BBC Sport it was “really unusual” for an individual not to own the trademark to their own name.

“If United had a brand of Mourinho clothing, it would be in breach of the trademark Chelsea currently own,” said Couse, of law firm Mills & Reeve.

And, when leaned upon the original purpose of trademark law, that’s bullshit. When considering the use of a mark as a source identifier, the idea that someone might think that a Manchester United jersey emblazoned with that team’s coach’s name might instead have come from a team he’d first coached over a decade ago is plainly ludicrous. And, as the post notes, nobody thinks that this trademark issue is in any way going to sink Mourinho’s hiring. In fact, he’s already coached other teams after he left Chelsea.

Couse pointed out that Mourinho has managed Inter Milan and Real Madrid since the trademark was registered, suggesting the Italian and Spanish clubs both found a way around the sticky issue.

“They have either acquired the rights from Chelsea or managed the use of his name,” she said.

If it’s the former, then we can congratulate Chelsea on its shrewd business dealings in holding a man’s name hostage for the purposes of sweet, cold, hard cash. But we can also ding the team for taking trademark beyond its purpose and instead wielding it as a weaponized profit-maker. Couse says she believes Man-U will simply pay a six-figure sum to license its own coach’s name because it will be worth it to sell merchandise. Which is probably true, except that avoids the question of what any of this has to do with consumer confusion in the first place.

Because the answer is nothing. Yet this is what trademark has become in entirely too many circles: a hostage negotiation with any concern for the public good entirely ignored.

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Comments on “The Perversion Of Trademarks: Jose Mourinho Can't Coach Man-U Yet Because Former Club Trademarked His Name”

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Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a non-issue. It’s long resolved, and it’s a common thing done to trademark / register names as trademarks to avoid problems. Now, normally it would be done by the individual and contracted to the team, but if the guy had not done it himself, the team was probably right to do it.

A small sum (6 figures is small in the premiere league) resolves the issue and everyone is happy. It’s only a subject of discussion because the British press is hungry for any story, and any even minor hiccup in replacing the much hated Louis Van Gaal was big news.

As a trademark discussion, it’s also a non-issue really. It’s a normal thing to do. Most major players and name personalities register their names (and often nicknames) as trademarks so they have better control over how their name is used in commercial products.

If Techdirt had put the story out when it was “hot” and relevant for 20 minutes, it might have been a discussion. But really, it was more of a media made issue that anything, a minor contractual issue that might have delayed a signing by 24 hours waiting for lawyers to sort out the nitty gritty of it all. After that, the story died everywhere except on Techdirt, where the past lives, I guess.

(oh, and my comment was posted early but the Techdirt minions have once again decided I need to be censored and delayed so that my comments are less a part of the discussion. It’s endlessly funny to watch champions of free speech using censorship to control the content of their site. Why doesn’t anyone call them out for it?)

David says:

Re: Re:

Shouldn’t the trademark be cancelled because Chelsea is no longer using it in commerce? Or are they still selling jerseys with the name of a guy who hasn’t worked there a couple of years on them?

They are probably blocked by trademark or consumer laws from selling any New Jersey. “$15? That’s a steal. Manhattan alone went for $24.”

Anonymous Coward says:

How about if Jose Mourinho legally changes his surname to something else and relinquishes the name of Mourinho. Surely there will be no trademark problems as he will be with a new surname for Man. United unless there was something written in his contract with Chelsea that he couldn’t change his name to something else.

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