When Coventry City were promoted to the Championship, having won the 2019/20 League One title, the profile of the Football Club increased as it became part of English football’s second tier.
Formerly members of the Premier League and also FA Cup winners in 1987, they joined 23 other teams in being one promotion away from the Premier League and the increased profile led to an increase in the number of people and companies using the Sky Blues distinctive crest without authorisation. Four years on, it is a trend that is continuing and creating concern for the Club.
In the United Kingdom, the vast majority of professional clubs’ crests are trademarked. A trade mark registration provides the club with a statutory right to the exclusive use of the trade mark in respect of the goods or services for which it is registered.
Coventry City have had different variations of their crest over the years, and the Football Club have taken steps to ensure that these badges have been trademarked with the UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office. The trademarking of these crests means that the Football Club is able to take action when the Club crest is used without permission.
Due to the Club’s large fanbase, the number of counterfeit items produced and available to buy, largely online, has increased hugely. To prevent this, the Football Club has taken action to track down counterfeit products and the people who are making and selling them.
When supporters buy products directly from Coventry City, it helps to support the activities of the Football Club – both on and off the field.
Dave Boddy, the Chief Executive at Coventry City, explained:
“We were seeing more and more items available to buy online from sources which were not the Football Club. To see other people selling products with the Club badge on and that money not coming back to the Club was concerning.
“Thankfully, we have been rigorous in the protection of the crest and had trademarked both the current crest and previous incarnations too with the Intellectual Property Office.
“This meant we were able to then take action to stop these products, many of which were of inferior quality, being sold.”
Coventry City contacted local Trading Standards to inform them of the trademark breaches and then followed this action by contacting the sellers who were using the Club’s trademark without permission.
The range of items found by the Football Club included mugs, replica shirts, framed prints and more, while some items use the trademark of sports manufacturers as well as the Sky Blues.
Using someone’s trademark, patent, copyright or design without their permission is known as ‘IP infringement’ and could lead to a fine, prison or both. The maximum sentence allowed by law is 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
“It was important that we took action and contacted the relevant authorities and the sellers themselves,” said Boddy.
“Some of the sellers were supporters of the Club and did not realise that their actions were illegal and damaging to the Football Club, and potentially to themselves.
“Those sellers have been warned to cease selling items with the Club crest on or they could face court action.
“There is a clear cost to the Football Club in terms of revenue and potentially reputation when inferior products are sold. We have spent thousands of pounds in trademarking our crest and intellectual property, as well as developing our retail operation over the last 9 months, so it is important that we monitor products that are being sold without our permission and take the action.”
In one case, a supporter was required to destroy thousands of pounds of counterfeit goods following action taking by the Club and pay significant legal fees. The supporter produced a number of counterfeit goods in breach of the Club over a period which continued despite warnings by the Club, resulting in the action.
“Unfortunately, one supporter chose to continue producing items, despite several legal warnings. This led to action being taken against him, and ultimately has cost him several thousand pounds both in costs and destroyed items.
“This is something which we would not hesitate to do again if required in the future.”
Over the last 18 months, Coventry City have been working with Back Four brand protection to ensure the Club’s crest continues to not be taken advantage of, which includes monitoring a high number of websites and social media channels to find and remove listings, as well as traditional markets and venues.
Meanwhile, the Sky Blues have opened a new Superstore at the Coventry Building Society Arena and refurbished the Store at West Orchards Shopping Centre. The range of items available at these Stores and online at ccfcstore.com has been greatly increased, giving supporters a variety of official products to purchase to support their Club – with even more items in stock in the coming weeks and months.
More information about trademarks, the Intellectual Property Office and use of a trademark without permission can be seen here, while information about the Club’s trademarks and brand protection can be seen here.