Names and logos are not just fundamental elements of a sports club's identity. The ability to control the use and exploitation of these assets is also a key element of a club's ability to generate sponsorship and merchandising revenue from its brand. Protecting a club's brand can also protect it from possible reputational damage associated with use by unauthorised third parties.
The key form of protection available for a club's name and logo is registration as a trade mark. A registered trade mark gives the holder the exclusive right to use that mark for the goods and services for which it has been registered within the UK. Clubs who register a trade mark benefit from more powerful remedies to prevent unauthorised use of their name or logo than would otherwise be available for unregistered logos and names under the law of “passing off”.
An English case in 2003 involving Arsenal Football Club illustrated the power of registered trade mark protection for sports clubs, confirming that the sale of unofficial Arsenal merchandise using the club logo amounted to trade mark infringement. In contrast, the court rejected Arsenal's arguments on grounds of "passing off" on the basis that there was no evidence that consumers would be confused as to the origin of the goods.
You might think that trade mark registration is only possible for very large clubs such as Arsenal, but in fact the total cost of registering a UK trade mark inclusive of fees and outlays is typically less than £1,000.