December 2, 2021
How athletes who suddenly shoot to fame can make their (trade) mark on and off the court
How athletes who suddenly shoot to fame can make their (trade) mark on and off the court

In a short space of time, Emma Raducanu went from being virtually unknown to becoming a household name. Her rise to fame comes with extra responsibilities and challenges, particularly if she wants to capitalise on her success. When compared to the likes of Kylie Jenner or Rihanna, who have pursued several business endeavours, protecting your IP might not be the first thought that comes to mind.


Effective brand protection, among other things, can (literally) pay dividends, and the sooner one acts, the better. While the obvious markers of financial success in the sporting realm are earnings, sponsorship deals, and collaborations, the success of the latter two are largely contingent on the power that that sportsperson’s name and influence yields. After all, their name is effectively their brand.


A relatively straightforward and inexpensive way of gaining such protection is to apply for a trade mark registration for your name in respect of the goods and services you wish to protect. But what benefits can securing a trade mark offer?


  1. It gives the owner the exclusive right to manage use of the mark, or to licence the use of it to other parties under a licence agreement. This allows the proprietor to control (mis)use of the mark that could otherwise be detrimental to their reputation. Third parties operating in bad faith will not be able to take advantage of a celebrity’s name. If they do, the owner can take action against them. For example, the domain name was registered by an unknown person and is now on sale for £72,000.
  2. Owners will be able to produce goods and offer services for which they have sought protection and profit off of them e.g. merchandise, cosmetics, and entertainment services.
  3. It demonstrates intent: it shows other parties that the owner is serious about protecting themselves and their brand and will act when they encounter attempts to unjustly exploit it.
  4. Trade marks can last indefinitely, subject to the payment of renewal fees (which is usually every 10 years). This means that an owner can protect their brand for as long as they would like.


Here are some examples of well-known celebrity brand endeavours and their success:


  • Retired NBA star Michael Jordan’s ‘Air Jordan’ brand with Nike generated $3.1 billion in the 2017 fiscal year.
  • Britney Spears’ total concert merchandise sales exceeded $30 million as of 2018.
  • Former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman’s namesake grills have earned him over $200 million in revenue, far exceeding his earnings as a boxer.
  • Rihanna’s Fenty range of cosmetics, using her surname, generated nearly $600 million in its first 15 months.
  • Andy Murray, a fellow British tennis star, has a number of UK trade mark registrations under his belt comprising his name and logos, which he has used to produce his own tennis clothing label.


It goes without saying that while in theory any celebrity can submit a trade mark application for their own name, a successful registration is not guaranteed. For example, Sir Alex Ferguson’s trade mark application for ALEX FERGUSON in class 16 was refused on the basis that it was descriptive of the subject matter of the goods applied for and devoid of distinctive character; it therefore did not fulfil the essential characteristics of a trade mark.


It is also worth noting that celebrities do not get a free pass just because their name is their brand, nor will they be treated more favourably than the average Joe. In virtually all jurisdictions there exist use requirements, and in some countries – such as the US – these are especially stringent, and third parties can seek to cancel their mark if it is vulnerable to non-use proceedings.


Effective trade mark protection necessitates a thorough and reasoned consideration of the relevant geographic markets, scope of coverage of the mark, and diligent legal and commercial advice. If executed properly, a sportsperson’s success can continue long after their playing days are over.


Trademarks /  Domains /  Advertising /  Brand Valuation /  Sport /  Anti-Counterfeiting /  Celebrity /  Look-a-likes /  Arts & Entertainment /  Brand Extension (licensing) /  IP basics

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