Football has always been a sport that has seen more than its fair share of drama and controversy. And in the latest turn of events, there seems to be even more; however, this time it’s not ‘player on player’, but between one of the most renowned English clubs in the world and a video game developer.
Manchester United F.C is now suing the makers of the Football Manager series, as they feel that the developers have been infringing their trademark a bit too much lately.
By trademark here, we do mean the name of the club, and Man United are alleging that Sega Publishing and Sports Interactive (SI) have been using their name “extensively throughout the game”.
However, Man United’s grievances with Sega do not end there. They have also accused the developers of not using the official Manchester United crest in the game, which is another grave act of infringement in their eyes. Instead, Sega has been “replacing the club crest with a simplified red and white striped logo” which is unacceptable to the club.
They claim that it “deprives the registered proprietor of its right to have the club crest licensed”.
Sega and SI’s Claim.
To Man United’s allegations, Sega and SI replied by saying that the club’s name that they have been using since Championship Manager 1992 (without any complaint from the claimant) is a ‘legitimate reference’ to the club.
Sega and SI have put out a counter-argument as well, and they accused the club of trying to “prevent legitimate competition in the video games field by preventing parties not licensed by the claimant from using the name of the Manchester United football team within such games”.
What were Man United’s exact concerns?
Simon Malynicz QC, who represents Man United in a court of law has said that a brand name like Manchester United is incredibly valuable as it possesses international recognition, hence “the products and services that are licensed by the claimant benefit from an association with the club’s winning culture and its brand values”.
Concerning the logo he says that, ‘consumers’ who’re the players, generally would like to see the club crest next to the club name itself. As Sega has failed to do so in their latest IP, Malynicz says that this amounts to wrongful use and an infringement of the trademark.
Additionally, the barrister goes a step further and asks Justice Morgan, to allow one more allegation in the claim against the developers. The new allegation revolves around Sega’s use of ‘patches’ and ‘mods’ which has downloadable files containing replica trademarks of the clubs, which consumers or the players later download and incorporate into their game.
According to Malynicz, this practice acts as a sort of encouragement for third-party developers to make and promote patches and mods, and “by promoting the patch providers in various ways and, of course, they directly benefited from it by avoiding the need to take any license and enjoying increased sales of their game”.
The Defendant’ Reply.
Roger Wyand QC, the man representing Sega and SI, has argued that “The claimant has acquiesced in the use by the defendants of the name of the Manchester United football team in the Football Manager game and cannot now complain of such use.”
He states that Sega and SI feel that preventing them from using the club’s name would be a draconian restraint that would compromise the game’s freedom of expression.
As the club badge that was used in the game was “ “one of 14 generic logo templates that are randomly chosen” every time a ‘new game’ is started, Wyand feels that the logo in no way is ‘licensed by the claimant.’
Wyand makes another counter-argument by stating the fact that the game ‘Football Manager’ was personally sent to a lot of officials and players by SI. Not only did it get an incredible amount of positive feedback and reviews in response, but data analysts from Man United themselves even sought out the developers so as to have access to the game’s database for ‘scouting and research purposes.’
In his closing argument, Wyand concludes by saying that “there is no likelihood of confusion or damage to the claimant’s EU trademarks … caused by the defendants’ activities”. As Man United has profited extensively with the games’ success, the developers don’t feel that the club has anything to complain about.
Justice Morgan is yet to amend the validity of the club’s claims and shall be reserving his decisions for a later date.