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Protecting the intellectual property of the World Cup

After a twelve-year wait, the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off on Sunday in Qatar, the first World Cup to be hosted in the Middle East and the most expensive edition to be hosted to date.

Despite some controversies surrounding this World Cup, FIFA is projecting that by the end of the tournament, a combined five billion viewers would have watched the 64 games across the globe through various technological means.

Latest figures show that 2.89 million people are also expected to watch the World Cup in person across the eight stadiums that are hosting the games.

The World Cup is without a doubt the world’s largest single sporting event that brings with it lucrative marketing opportunities, both to the official sponsors of the tournament who splash out thousands to secure exclusive sponsorship deals as well as those who seek creative ways to ‘hijack’ the tournament for their financial gain without forking out a single cent, commonly referred to as ambush marketing.

The World Cup started to be exploited from a commercial point of view ever since the 1978 edition following FIFA’s, now long standing, cooperation with Coca-Cola which shall run until at least 2030.

Official sponsors of the World Cup invest dearly to secure the exclusive rights to gain the exposure and goodwill that is associated with such a major sporting event. In return, the sponsors most certainly expect certain levels of protection and enforcement from FIFA.

FIFA includes a number of terms, conditions and guidelines which help to protect the investment and exclusive rights that are granted to their partners and other licensees of the tournament, which include, amongst others, monitory and action plans on counterfeit merchandise, ambush marketing campaigns and social media activity.

Such rights are actively pursued and enforced by FIFA in order to prevent misuse of the World Cup intellectual property as well as to stop the prestige and value of the tournament from being diluted by any unauthorised use.

To achieve this, FIFA publishes a “Brand Protection” guidance document on its website explaining the intellectual property that forms part of FIFA and its tournaments.

FIFA also has its own key assets to protect, amongst them the official name and abbreviations of the tournament (such as QATAR 2022), the tournament trophy, official emblem, official song and official mascot of the tournament.

These assets are all incorporated in official merchandise that would be licensed by FIFA to official manufacturers and vendors. FIFA also sells the lucrative World Cup broadcasting rights to broadcasters. As a result of such sales, FIFA earns millions in revenue in return.

FIFA continuously develops and protects its brand assets in connection with its events, such as the World Cup tournaments as well as with other activities and tournaments organised by FIFA. FIFA’s intellectual property is protected in territories around the world by copyright, trademark and/or other forms of intellectual property and laws such as unfair competition, passing off and any other relevant legislation.

Another way how FIFA ensures that its partners are offered utmost protection is to oblige any country that is hosting the World Cup to enact specific legislation within the laws of that host country that seeks to protect all the intellectual property belonging to FIFA and the World Cup.

Host countries must create dedicated law enforcement units and judicial courts which are devoted solely to investigating cases of intellectual property infringement, ambush marketing, and counterfeited goods, as well as taking action against anyone who is found in breach of the intellectual property of FIFA and the World Cup.

This is primarily done to prevent third parties from taking an unfair advantage of the extensive media coverage that occurs during the World Cup, particularly because of how tempting it is to gain freely off of the international attention at the detriment of those of pay their fair share to be associated with an event such as the World Cup.

The commercial value of major tournaments such as the World Cup will continue to increase substantially over the years to come.

With the growth of such tournaments come new opportunities for further revenue prosperity. At the same time, tournament organisers must be on high alert to prevent unauthorised gains from the success brought about by these tournaments and ensure that its official sponsors and partners who decided to invest heavily are protected at all times.

Without the necessary intellectual property protection, there would no reason to become an official sponsor, ultimately potentially resulting in organisers of major tournaments not being able to secure the necessary funding to host an event.

Dr Robert Dingli is a Senior Associate at Dingli & Dingli Law Firm and specializes in sports law

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