The role and importance of trademarks are also highlighted in the following case: it is increasingly common for well-known sportsmen to generate additional revenue by distributing so-called ‘merchandise’ products with their trademarks relating to their names. However, it is essential to pay attention to the earlier trademarks already present on the market since an athlete’s reputation is not always sufficient to differentiate his or her name from others’ previous rights. Therefore, it is a priority to use the assistance of a trademark law expert.
Seven-time Formula One world champion, Lewis Hamilton’s company, 44IP, filed a declaration of invalidity in 2017 against the European Union trademark “HAMILTON” of Hamilton International, a company founded in 1892 manufacturing and distributing luxury watches ever since.
According to 44IP, the application of the watch manufacturer’s HAMILTON trademark was applied in bad faith to prevent fair competition.
However, the EUIPO rejected the world champion’s application because it considered Hamilton International AG to be a significant player in the in the watchmakers’ market and in its view it duly demonstrated that it had been using the HAMILTON designation continuously since 1892 in relation to the watches it produced. Thus, the EUIPO considered the claim relating to the application in bad faith unfounded.
The applicant 44IP also claimed that Lewis Hamilton was sufficiently well known in the EU and that his name would be recognised by consumers, and they would also connect the goods (watches) concerned to him.
The EUIPO also rejected this argument and stated that individuals do not have a natural right to the registration of their own names as trademarks if it infringed the rights of third parties. Hamilton was only born in 1985 when the watch manufacturer had been actively using the contested mark for more than 90 years, even if the trademark application itself took place later. This decision is different from the decision in the Lionel Messi case because, in this decision, the fact that the surname Hamilton is quite common in the EU was also taken into account and that the trademark challenged does not refer to the name LEWIS HAMILTON, but only to the word HAMILTON.
Although Lewis Hamilton has so far failed in this case, there is no cause for concern, as he already has the EU trademark for the word HAMILTON – including clothing, toiletries, and video games. He also has the opportunity to challenge the EUIPO’s decision and convince the appeal forum of his “truth”.