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Barcelona's attempts to strengthen its brand with crest shape trademark thrown out by court

A European court has thrown out FC Barcelona’s trademark claim to have the shape of the club’s crest trademarked, bringing to an end the Catalan giants' long-running attempts to refine the distinctiveness of its lucrative brand.

The La Liga champions brought the community trademark action before the General Court of the European Union after it was initially rejected by the European trade mark body - the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM).

In May 2014 the OHIM rejected the application for registration on the grounds that “the sign in question was not liable to draw consumers’ attention to the commercial origin of the goods and services covered by the application”. Unsatisfied with the ruling, Barcelona initiated action against the decision, going through the General Court.

The court threw out the claim today (10 December), saying in its decision that none of the characteristics of the sign “contains any striking feature which is liable to attract the attention of consumers”.

The ruling stated that consumers would perceive the crest “merely as a shape” and that it did not have “distinctive character” required to gain approval for a trade mark. The court also maintained that the club had not demonstrated that “that the sign has acquired distinctive character” through its use.

Lee Curtis, trademark attorney and partner at intellectual property law firm HGF, said the case “highlights the importance of brand protection for football clubs" and the "ingenious" and new ways they attempt to utilise trade mark law to protect growing merchandising rights associated with names and club crests and the like.

Curtis added that “football is no longer simply about the game, but money and intellectual property rights”.

Barcelona’s attempts to monopolise the outline of its blub crest across the EU illustrates the importance of brand distinction in football today. Clubs are increasingly competing off the pitch, negotiating new sponsorship and merchandise partnerships in an attempt to push their brand images further and strengthen revenue streams.

According to Forbes football team valuations Barcelona’s brand value is worth $437m, placing it third in the world with Manchester United ($446m) in second and Real Madrid ($464) holding the crown for most valuable brand.

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