For an avid football fan and a pizza chef, isn’t the perfect name for your new mushroom (champignon in German) pizza, Champignons League? For the owner and pizza chef Sadi Souri of Pizza Wolke in Giessen, Germany, this was precisely the perfect name.
UEFA, the owner of the trade mark ‘Champions League’ however had a different opinion on the name of the pizza and the impact that it could have on one of the most famous trade marks in football.
Trade marks are used to show the origin of a product. They can for example be a recognisable logos like the Nike swoosh or Adidas 3 stripes and recognisable words like Coca-Cola or RedBull’s slogan ‘gives you wings’. Trade marks are all around us and they are a tool used by organisations and companies to show a product or services as theirs, signifying quality assurance and reliability.
UEFA use the trade mark ‘Champions League’ for one of the most prestigious annual football competitions in the world. In 2018, the UEFA Champions League final was watched by 380 million viewers. This statistic alone represents the global importance and recognition of the trade mark, Champions League.
So back to the mushroom pizza - Champignons League. On behalf of UEFA and in fear that the name of the pizza was going to infringe the Champions League trade mark (that UEFA hold for pizza and many other goods and services), a trade mark agent sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sadi Souri asking him to stop using the name Champignons League for the pizza. In shock that he and his pizza had been noticed by UEFA, Sadi Souri posted the letter on social media which proceeded to cook up a suitable storm receiving online comments such as “Free Pizza Champignon” and “we are the Champignons, my friend”. UEFA soon acknowledged that the difference between a multi-million-pound football tournament and a local pizzeria is unlikely to cause confusion to the consumer and since have retracted their position. UEFA has confirmed that the “UEFA Champions League can happily live alongside this delicious-sounding pizza”.
You may sympathise with EUFA for wanting to robustly protect their trade mark but as highlighted here there is an art to recognising genuine commercial threat. Trade mark owners need to carefully analyse the balance in playing softly and strategically against playing aggressively, backing down and scoring a PR own-goal.
A final thought. How many people invited for a Champignons League night with their friends will in fact think they have some incredibly good-value football tickets? If in the future this consumer confusion becomes a reality, UEFA may look to action infringement proceedings again, but this time with a carefully measured game plan.