As football fever grips the nation during World Cup, businesses need to ensure that they are on the ball to avoid allegations of foul play.

Many businesses will want to take advantage of the worldwide public and media interest in the World Cup, by associating themselves with the tournament. However, businesses must take care not to score an own goal by breaching intellectual property laws.

Both the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Football Association in England (FA) have a large portfolio of official marks, which they will uncompromisingly defend if attacked by the opposition. FIFA has registered 'World Cup 2010', 'Soccer World Cup', 'Football World Cup', 'South Africa 2010' and many similar derivations and combinations thereof as European Community Trademarks. Similarly, in the UK the FA have registered the "Three Lions" logo which is emblazoned on the England strip and official merchandise.

The Playing Field of Ambush Marketing

FIFA and its commercial affiliates (FIFA's partners and World Cup sponsors) are guaranteed exclusive association with the 2010 World Cup, including the right to use FIFA's official marks for promotional and advertising purposes. FIFA's partners and sponsors pay large sums of money to be associated with the World Cup and so any unauthorised association with the tournament by rival brands without the payment of a sponsorship fee (known as “ambush marketing”) will result in legal action and the resultant financial penalties.

Many businesses will be hosting corporate events related to the World Cup, including match screenings, and they will need to be scrupulous in their advertising of events and/or marketing of goods or risk being considered 'off side' of the law.

Beating FIFA at its own game - "Do's and Don'ts"

FIFA has a reputation vigorously protecting its trade marks, for example:

  • Official World Cup sponsor Budweiser has been subject to ambush marketing tactics since the start of this year’s tournament. Dutch brewery, Bavaria, came under the spotlight just this week when 36 women attending the Netherlands/Denmark match on 14 June removed their outfits to reveal orange mini-skirts produced by Bavaria. The women were removed from the Soccer City stadium and questioned by FIFA who have now issued legal proceedings against Bavaria. The brewery also hit the headlines during the 2006 World Cup in Germany (also sponsored by Budweiser) when Dutch fans wore orange shorts promoting Bavaria's beer. Stadium officials forced fans to remove the offending shorts, leaving them watching the game in their underpants.
  • FIFA recently succeeded in a claim for trade mark infringement and passing off against a South African business which had used the term "Astor 2010 Pops" in conjunction with images of footballs and the South African flag on its confectionary products.

To assist businesses looking to capitalise on the tournament, FIFA has published a 26-page leaflet detailing what it considers to be unauthorised commercial association with the 2010 World Cup and those activities which could be considered legitimate. FIFA's protection of its official marks reaches far and wide, from general advertising and merchandise, to the in-store decoration of restaurants and bars as well as the regulation of company and internet domain names.

FIFA would view any advertisement or merchandise using general football terms and imagery as acceptable, (such as clothing or literature bearing the slogan 'Football in South Africa') but not an advertisement using any of FIFA's official marks or other reference to the World Cup. Similarly, general football-related or South Africa-related in-store decoration is permitted, but not use of any of the official marks on the in-store decorations.

Company names, domain names and websites incorporating or using official marks are also subject to strict controls, creating a potential minefield for businesses wishing to cash in on the interest in the World Cup.

Business can benefit from the 2010 World Cup but need to play the game tactically or risk major defeat.