Gareth Bale, the ace Welsh Tottenham Hotspurs midfielder, recently filed a successful trade mark application to benefit from his iconic goal celebration and shirt number. The application was filed on March 26, 2013 with the UK Intellectual Property Office.
Mr. Bale, in roaring form with 31 goals in the last season of the English Premier League, is rumoured to have inked a £85m deal to mave to Real Madrid this summer. This would place him in the same league as Bernabeu favourite Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mr. Bale is also following Mr. Ronaldo’s footsteps in creating a brand for himself. His trade mark “CR7” is used on Nike apparel and is also the name of his line of clothing boutiques. Similarly, Mr. Bale’s trade mark will also be used on apparel and other products.
Registration of celebrity trade marks is not a recent phenomenon. A host of sports stars, actors, and musicians have cashed in on their celebrity status to register their own symbols and logos. Logos such as “SRT” by Sachin Tendulkar, “RF” by Roger Federer, and the four symbols representing the members of Led Zeppelin are prime examples. Shah Rukh Khan has reportedly applied to register the symbol “SRK” as a trade mark. Also, director Vidhu Vinod Chopra took Mr. Tendulkar’s permission before he used the symbol “SRT” in his movie Ferarri Ki Sawaari.
According to the Trade Marks Act, 1999, “trade mark” includes any label, name, word, letters, numeral, brand that can be graphically represented and can distinguish the goods or services of one person from those of another.
A question that may arise now is whether another footballer, while celebrating a goal, can use Mr. Bale’s method of celebration. If Indian trade mark law were applicable, the celebration would be valid because firstly, the footballer who is copying Mr. Bale’s celebratory style is not providing any goods or services at that moment, and secondly, his method of celebration is neither graphically represented nor commercially exploited. However, if another footballer or any other person uses Bale’s logo on other goods or gestures the same symbol in advertisements without his permission, then it would amount to infringement.
So the next time Mr. Bale scores for Tottenham or even Real Madrid, remember that his celebration is worth millions.
(Samar Jha is a member of the faculty on myLaw.net.)