Earlier this summer, Liverpool FC applied to trademark the word "Liverpool" in a football context which provoked a backlash from fans - here chair of Spirit of Shankly Joe Blott tells us about the Intellectual Property Office's decision to reject the application...
As Liverpool fans, we’re riding high. On the 1st June Liverpool won their sixth European Cup. We’ve since added the Super Cup and are unbeaten in the Premier League. We’re celebrating all right, but Spirit of Shankly (SOS) are also ever aware of the club’s actions and holding them to account.
At September’s home game against Newcastle United, pre-match routines took a turn. Thousands of fans were out early supporting Independents Day – an SOS-backed show of solidarity with the independent retailers who capture perfectly the fan culture that defines being a Red.
This action followed our owners’ attempt to trademark the name ‘Liverpool’ within the context of all club merchandise. Fenway Sports Group (FSG), a Boston-based venture-capitalist group, not satisfied with squeezing the fans through prices of tickets, replica kits and other ephemera, decided to make a move on the name of our club and our city. The name Liverpool is not up for grabs.
They claimed trademarking Liverpool would stop the saturation of counterfeit replica kits, especially from the Far East. We understand why they would want to stop this, but local t-shirt manufacturers and sellers do not sell counterfeit replica kits. They sell unique products that reflect the fan culture of Anfield. And it is them, among others, who were significantly at risk.
The move became public in July, not because of the club’s willingness to share plans with businesses and organisations likely affected by the move, but by accident. SOS immediately offered to broker a meeting between interested parties and Liverpool FC, which took place on 2 August 2019. It was the first discussion of Liverpool's plan.
Further conversations, between SOS, traders, local football clubs bearing the name Liverpool in their title, the city council and others to try to counter the application, followed. A social and wider media campaign picked up throughout September, with people being encouraged to write to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to oppose the move.
On 26 September, we learned the IPO had dismissed LFC’s application. The official judgement cites “the geographical significance of Liverpool as a city in comparison to place names that have been trademarked by other football clubs in the UK”.
So a victory for common sense.
SOS welcome the IPO’s rejection and the club’s decision not to appeal against it. ‘Liverpool’ is not for FSG or anybody else to own – it belongs to the city of Liverpool and its people.
Liverpool FC have enough legal remedies from their current trademarks to address any issues they may have. Any more is unnecessary.
Without fan activism this issue may not have ended like this. Without fan involvement there would be no challenge to the corporate greed within football.
But make no mistake this is not in isolation. We understand representatives of all Premier League clubs were in London early last month debating plans to do exactly the same – another example of the ongoing pursuit of football clubs to squeeze every pound they can from wherever they can.
We have witnessed issues at many clubs, most recently Bolton and Bury, but every club’s actions ought to be done with consequences, intended or unintended, openly discussed with supporters. We as fan groups need to be alive to this, challenge and continue to hold our clubs to account for their actions.
Unity is strength.