April 19, 2024
A score for TEAM USA in the EU
A score for TEAM USA in the EU

Back in 2022, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee filed an International Registration designating the EU for TEAM USA for jewellery, bags, drinkware and clothing.

Initially, this application was refused as being devoid of distinctive character. The EUIPO Examiner was of the opinion that in the whole EU, despite the different languages spoken, the meaning of the sign would easily be understood. It is also quite common for each team representing their countries to be called “TEAM” followed by the name of the country in question. The Examiner added that it is quite common for teams to distribute promotional products or sell them at competitions.

Unhappy with this decision, the Applicant decided to appeal it, and was successful.

In their appeal, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee claimed that the argument of the fact that the sign was devoid of distinctiveness was not analysed in conjunction with the goods filed for. No sporting goods were covered and there is no direct connection between the goods and the sign. Finally, the fact that the sign has a meaning does not immediately imply that the sign cannot be perceived as an indication of origin. Indeed, the term ‘team’ is registered for various goods and services by other parties. This implies that this term can be distinctive.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the EUIPO practice regarding the registration of country names or of other geographical terms is to consider them as distinctive unless the average consumers know these places specifically for the goods and services in question.

This practice is apparent in the Register with the registration for example of AMERICA and PANAMA for vehicles.

As a quick reminder, for an application to be accepted, a sign has to be distinctive in relation to the goods and/or services covered. This analysis is made through the eyes of the average consumer of the goods and services in question. The average consumer is deemed to be reasonably well informed, reasonably observant and circumspect. Depending on the goods and services, the degree of attention will vary. Indeed, if the goods are expensive or have an influence on people’s health, the average consumer will be deemed to have a high degree of attention.

It is also not necessary for a sign to reach a certain level of creativity or imagination to be registrable. It only has to reach a minimum degree of distinctiveness. In several cases, a sign can be in the grey area. We at Stobbs have a good track record of obtaining registration for such marks which are just over the line in terms of distinctive character, as well as a specialist practice in representing sports bodies, whose brands can often encounter these same issues. 

The Board of Appeal in this case considered that the sign TEAM USA means a team of players for a certain sport which represent their country at events. All the merchandising the applicants are seeking cover for under the application would be considered as being manufactured, marketed or supplied by the applicant. Registration cannot be refused merely because it is the name of a sports team. The Board of Appeal also added that the EUIPO Examiner should have analysed the distinctiveness of the sign in relation to the goods and services covered and in isolation.

For these reasons, the application was sent back to the Examiner for fresh examination. The EU designation of the International Registration is now registered for all the goods.


Trademarks /  Sport /  Disputes

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