–Susan Perera, Attorney

You would never know it is only the first week of the World Cup at our house. World Cup frenzy hit weeks ago with the beginning of exhibition games and the gossip of player injuries. Maybe you saw yesterday’s game where the United States made a heroic comeback only to be robbed of a win against Slovenia. With 2 ties so far in the tournament the U.S. still has a shot at making it into the next round and we hope to watch them in many games to come. 

Even if you aren’t a soccer fan (or should I say football?) I’m sure you’ve been inundated with the onslaught of World Cup related advertising. Which made me think, how much work is put into protecting the intellectual property rights associated with one of the world’s largest sporting events?

Apparently quite a bit of work. FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) is the governing body of the world football association and in anticipation of this year’s World Cup it has been busy registering trademarks.

At the USPTO, FIFA is the registered owner of over 100 marks including:

FIFA has also gained trademark protection for the official emblem, the 2010 mascot (a cartoonish green and yellow leopard named Zakumi), and the World Cup trophy. A quick search of the USPTO website shows that FIFA began registering marks for the 2010 games all the way back in 2005; and FIFA is very serious about enforcing its trademark rights. FIFA even published an extensive guide with examples to help the public identify which uses FIFA considers to be unauthorized.

FIFA also has a clear strategy for capitalizing on its marks by dividing marketing affiliates into 3 tiered categories: FIFA Partners, World Cup Sponsors, and National Supporters. The six FIFA Partners (Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai-Kia, Sony, and Visa)  enjoy the greatest level of rights in marketing at the cost of $24-44 million annually for the 2007-2010 period.

With businesses around the globe trying to get a piece of the pie FIFA will certainly be busy.

One early enforcement proceeding against Kulula, a low price airline, has gained some buzz on the web. Kulula.com began advertising as the “Unofficial National Carrier of the ‘You-Know-What’” the wording of Kulula’s advertisement clearly conveys that it is not an official sponsor of the event but FIFA claimed infringement due to the images displayed in the ad. Kulula subsequently pulled the ad, replacing it with a tongue and cheek response to FIFA’s strong reaction. See a picture of the first and subsequent ads here and here. Do you think the original ad infringed on FIFA’s trademark rights or caused confusion? And what about Kulula’s witty response ad?