Liverpool FC has failed to register a trade mark for 'LIVERPOOL' at the UKIPO on the basis of the city's "geographical significance".

Background

Liverpool Football Club (LFC) filed an application to register the trademark 'LIVERPOOL' at the Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (UKIPO) on 20 June 2019. The application was made in relation to a wide number of goods and services including toys, photographs, clothing and broadcasting services. LFC stated that the application was strictly to protect the club and supporters from buying counterfeit Liverpool FC products; a registered trade mark would make it easier to curb counterfeit merchandise products and protect their brand internationally.

Shortly after LFC filed its original application, it was split into two separate applications. The first application (covering scientific apparatus, clothing, footwear, games and toys) is still under consideration. The second application, (covering office materials, business management services, telecommunication, education and services for providing food and drink) was refused by the UKIPO in a high profile decision.

Reasons for refusal

Although LFC stressed that it wanted to register the name as a trade mark "only in the context of football products and services", its application was unsuccessful. The UKIPO found that Liverpool could not monopolise the name 'Liverpool' due to its "geographical significance" as a city. If the UKIPO had granted LFC the rights for the geographical location, it would have granted LFC sole use over the words or images associated with Liverpool (the city), and the capability to prevent anyone else's use.

Interestingly, this application and subsequent resistance mirrors a similar dispute from over 10 years ago, when LFC overcame criticism from local politicians concerning their application to register a component of its crest; a depiction of the liver bird. Alfie Hincks, local businessman and supporter of rivals Everton Football Club, strongly opposed the application and, on the grounds that the liver bird was well recognized as an emblem of the city of Liverpool, filed an opposition to LFC's trade mark registration. However, the arrangement of the trade mark, featuring both the liver bird as well as the name of the club and the iron gates of Anfield, meant that the trade mark was considered a distinct and stylised mark and therefore it was registered.

What's next?

What has gone unnoticed by many is that the first application was approved for publication by the UKIPO, published on 8 August 2019 and remains pending. The application is still open for opposition and to date there have been over 100 notices of intended opposition filed. As mentioned above, the goods in this surviving application all fall into the "merchandising" category, which perhaps gives LFC a better chance at a successful registration, given than it would be more realistic to associate merchandising goods exclusively with LFC. Interestingly, Southampton FC's 'SOUTHAMPTON' EU trade mark covers three almost identical classes; so perhaps this is more of a promising position for LFC.

Conclusion

The move is not unprecedented and other Premier League clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have successfully managed to trade mark place names in relation to their commercial businesses. Essentially, clubs want to register marks across a wide variety of classes, with as wide-ranging specifications as possible in order to limit the number of counterfeit products and to cover different types of merchandising or sponsorship agreements.

But it is not all doom and gloom for LFC, as they have in their line-up the marks for "LIVERPOOL FC", "LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB" and their emblem design, amongst a host of others on the UK and EU trade mark registers. It will be interesting to see whether the latest application is added to the squad or whether LFC will concede another penalty from the UKIPO.