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Exclusive: Rugby league would take ‘appropriate action’ against European Super League TM

Speaking to Managing IP, counsel for rugby league’s premier competition say they are closely monitoring developments around the European Super League

The UK’s senior rugby league competition, Super League, has said it will take whatever action necessary against a trademark application filed by football’s proposed European Super League.

Speaking exclusively to Managing IP, both the general and the external counsel for the rugby Super League said they are considering the next steps even though the football competition appears to be in jeopardy just days after it was announced.

Chris Anderson, general counsel at the Super League, told Managing IP that the organisation must protect its brand and intellectual property – not least because every sponsorship deal is predicated on rights that have been used exclusively for 25 years.

“We absolutely will do what is necessary to protect the value of our brand that we have grown since 1996.”

Andrew Marsden, a managing associate at Wilson Gunn in the UK and external counsel to the Super League, added: “We are watching the situation with interest. The developments are of concern, but we are aware that things have changed quite quickly.

“But it’s on our radar and we are considering the next steps. I imagine it [the project] won’t go away completely – I imagine they [the clubs involved] will revisit it,” he added.

The breakaway European Super League was announced on Sunday night, April 18, in one of the biggest shocks in European football. Spearheaded by 12 clubs, including six from England, the project is now on the brink of collapse with nine teams having pulled out following widespread criticism over financial greed and lack of competition.

Despite that, there will be fears that the league could be reignited at a later date – and, in the meantime, three of the 12 clubs are clinging on defiantly.

Two days before Sunday’s announcement, law firm Clifford Chance filed a figurative EU trademark (EUTM) application for ‘The Super League’ under the EUIPO’s fast-track procedure. The filing covers nearly 40 classes of goods and services.

In UK rugby league, the Super League has been the premier competition since its founding in 1996. The league has trademark protection not just in the UK but also in Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

These registrations include three figurative EUTMs for ‘Super League’ plus a logo, which has been updated several times. The league has also filed a UK application for the words ‘Super League’, but this is pending.

“There is not just registered protection to be relied on – there is a lot of use as well,” said Marsden.

Although Super League is not the only sporting competition to use a variation of the term – there are leagues in netball, women’s football and triathlon with similar names – the rugby competition predates them significantly.

And, according to Marsden, the recent football application is much more similar to Super League’s marks than the others are. “You’ve got to look at this and see how close people get and [whether there are any] problems of confusion. The football branding doesn’t have as much to distinguish it.”

He added: “We don’t want the brand to be weakened and diluted. We’re keeping track and, if we think it’s necessary in due course, we will take appropriate steps.”

After news of the European Super League broke, the clubs involved – including Manchester United and Liverpool – immediately came under intense condemnation from fans, football associations and even the UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

With Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus now left, Madrid president Florentino Pérez has said the project is merely on “standby”.

The rugby Super League comprises 12 teams, most of which are based in northern England.

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