Gareth Bale was in the news last week for transferring to Real Madrid in a record £85m deal. Less well known is that at the beginning of August he successfully registered as a UK trade mark a logo based on his signature goal celebration. His Eleven of Hearts logo is registered against several classes of goods including precious metals, jewellery, clothing, footwear and even parasols and walking sticks. Nigel Currie, a sports marketing expert, suggested that up to a third of Gareth Bale’s income could come from image rights, potentially up to £3m a year.
What are image rights?
So-called “image rights” are an individual’s rights in the expression of their personality. They should allow a person to control the commercial use of their name, personality, other distinctive parts of their identity and associated images linked to that person. There is no single law of image rights in the UK so the protection lies in the application of other intellectual property and privacy rights. Trade marks are used as practical means to protecting image rights. All that is needed for a trade mark is a distinctive mark capable of graphical representation. So a person’s signature, gesture, name, likeness or slogan, all have potential to be registered. Gareth Bale is not the first to use trade marks in this way. David Beckham has registered a community trade mark in relation to a wide range of goods, including hair care, cosmetics and jewellery.
Is this right enforceable?
This is yet to be fully tested in the UK Courts. The Eleven of Hearts mark has passed the hurdle of registration but it is unclear what would happen if Bale were to seek to enforce it.
Linkin Park, the rock band, made an unsuccessful application in the UK to register the Linkin Park name as a trade mark in respect of “printed matter, posters and poster books”. When the IPO rejected the application, it suggested that some trade marks that are currently registered might not be considered valid if subjected to a detailed examination in court. One of the difficulties faced is whether the public will consider the mark to be distinctive. If the individual’s fame is unrelated to the goods or service applied for, then the public could think the mark is descriptive rather the indication of origin, namely that the good was made by or on behalf of Gareth Bale
. It will be interesting to see how this aspect of protecting image rights develops.