As online gambling in France is opening to competition, sports associations, corporations and organizations are seeking to secure their intellectual property rights protecting their names and the names of the competitions they organize and redouble their efforts against bookmakers who are using the names.
The website www.unibet.com is one of the main bookmaking websites in France. It has been sued several times for trademark infringement and/or unfair competition by sports associations and organizations. The first action was instituted by the football club Juventus to challenge Unibet's use of the sign "JUVENTUS" for a bet connected to a football match. The second action was by the French tennis federation to challenge the use of the sign "ROLAND GARROS" for a bet connected to the eponymous tennis competition. The Third was by the football club Paris Saint Germain to challenge the use of the signs "PSG" and "PARIS SAINT GERMAIN" for a bet connected to a football match.
However, these actions have resulted in a somewhat contradictory case law. Even though the courts have unanimously held that Unibet was using the above signs in the course of trade (since Unibet offers, on its website, various betting games from which it draws payment), in not every case was there a finding of trademark infringement. Indeed, in the Juventus and Paris Saint Germain/PSG cases, the Paris Courts of First Instance and of Appeal considered that Unibet was not using the signs in suit as trade marks to promote its business activity, but to promote the sporting events on which the bets were organized and to remind gamblers of the name of the teams competing. On the contrary, in the Roland Garros case, the Paris Court of Appeal has ruled that the sign "ROLAND GARROS" was used as a trademark to designate Unibet's bets on the eponymous tennis tournament, that such use was leading bettors into believing that there is a link between Unibet and Roland Garros and, therefore, that such use was infringing Roland Garros' prior trademark rights.
The above contradictory case law underlines new legal uncertainties related to the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the context of the opening to competition of online gambling in France. The French Supreme Court has been apprised of the Juventus case by the football club Juventus. A new set of case law is to be built. Intellectual property rights owners will need to follow it carefully.