from the mansplaining dept
It won’t be a massive surprise that Manchester United, the famed Premier League football club, has made it onto our pages before. As the “Yankees of European soccer”, it would be shocking if the club hadn’t at some point taken aggressive action in the technology and IP space. Still, there isn’t a great deal of posts in there, so you would be forgiven if you thought of Man-U as generally not bad on this sort of thing.
But, no, the club is perfectly capable of being protectionist, and even occasionally taking outrageous positions. For instance, we can start with the fact that Sega’s Football Manager 22 will no longer include the name of the club in the game, but will shift it to something barely different after a lawsuit was filed because of… reasons.
Manchester United will be renamed Manchester UFC from Football Manager 22 onwards after the resolution of a trademark dispute. The Premier League club sued Football Manager publisher Sega in May last year, 16 years after the release of Sports Interactive’s first Football Manager game, and 28 years after the launch of the first Championship Manager game.
In the actual lawsuit, Sega pushed back and stated that including the club in the context of a football/soccer game was a legitimate use, indicating it as basically simply describing reality. Sega also noted that Man-U had appeared under its name in the Football Manager series for literally 30 years without any complaint from the club whatsoever. Why this suddenly became an issue comes down to the club’s desire to sell exclusive licenses for use to Sega’s competitors, of course, but soccer games have existed forever. Where has Man-U been this entire time?
Further pushback came from Sega, indicating that the game designers went out of their way not to use Man-U’s logos or crests, as that really would be a trademark violation. Somewhat amazingly, Man-U responded saying that was trademark infringement, too.
United also claimed Football Manager infringed its trademark of the Manchester United logo by not using the official Manchester United crest in the game. This “deprives the registered proprietor of its right to have the club crest licensed”, Manchester United’s lawyers said.
“Consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United… and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use,” United argued, although the club’s lawyer accepted this argument was “somewhat novel, and certainly in the context of video games, but it is certainly arguable”.
Yes, it’s novel, because I’ve never heard a trademark claimant suggest that not using trademarked iconography was infringement solely because it didn’t result in a licensing deal to use the actual trademarked iconography. That’s… not how this works. It would also be interesting to see how this claim would run up against any free speech rights Sega could point to in the UK. While obviously different from the laws in America, I’ll just note that the 1st Amendment here would make this argument a complete non-starter. A 2nd party can’t claim the right to force the 1st party to put something specifically in their game.
But, alas, Sega changed the name to something barely different to get out of this whole mess, noting the entire time that it admitted no guilt.
This means that, from this year’s game onwards, Manchester United will be named ‘Manchester UFC’ or ‘Man UFC’.
“These name changes have been made purely to settle the dispute on a no admissions basis,” Sports Interactive added. “SEGA and Sports Interactive maintain that they do not need a licence to use the Manchester United name but have made the change as a gesture of goodwill so that both parties can move on.”
And so everyone playing the game will know precisely what the game is referring to with its “Manchester UFC” name, but the club won’t actually get the exposure benefit of having its normal branding in there.
Talk about an own-goal.