New Delhi: Rodney D. Ryder, partner at law firm Kochhar and Co., refers to the Indian Premier League (IPL), the popular Twenty20 cricket tournament, as the “intellectual property league”!
The lawyer, who specializes in intellectual property (IP), is a cricket enthusiast. And he is helping his client, the Hyderabad-based cricket franchise Deccan Chargers, create a unique IP portfolio, including trademarks for team logos, copyright over player uniforms and website layouts. The objective is to protect IP, make a profit and increase brand valuation.
“My client knew about basic IP. They knew a brand must be protected through trademarks, but they didn’t imagine the enormity,” says Ryder. “One challenge is, unlike brands that have grown over time like Coca-Cola, here the brands have seen an exponential growth (in popularity) in a year.”
Image building: IPL merchandise at a Reebok store in Gurgaon. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The popularity of IPL, which has opened up numerous business opportunities in only its second season, has caused brand managers to take notice of the importance of protecting their IP and seek trademarks for both existing products such as team apparel and those still in the realm of imagination.
Darshan M., vice-president of commercial operations at Deccan Chargers, says he couldn’t help but notice how small shops in “every nook and corner” in cities such as Chennai and Bangalore were selling cigarette lighters with his team’s logo on it. Fake products of bad quality could have fans associating the experience with the team and its brand.
“We are building communities to support us and we want our fans to get the right experience,” says Darshan.
Deccan Chargers has applied for trademarks to merchandise and manufacture numerous products. Besides obvious trademarks for clothing, footwear and sporting articles, it has filed applications for consumable products such as meat, tobacco products, tea, coffee, mineral and aerated water.
The controller general of patents, designs and trademarks’ registry shows trademark applications from Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by actor Shah Rukh Khan, for financial services, insurance, websites, telecom, entertainment and beauty care products. Similarly, Mumbai Indians have filed trademark applications for cosmetics, musical instruments and photographic and cinema equipment, among others.
Ryder says these applications has been filed “anticipating” significant business potential in the teams’ brand- building exercise as the IPL series grows. It will take three to four years for the trademarks to be granted, but IP rights accrue from the date of application.
“Last year, no teams did any merchandising beyond T-shirts. This year the revenue has gone up considerably from this for the teams that are doing well. As we move forward and merchandising starts on a larger scale worldwide, all such issues become important,” says Rakesh Singh, head of marketing, India Cements Ltd which owns Chennai Super Kings.
It’s not only the teams’ merchandise, but their websites that will need protection too. Ryder says his client has been “on the defensive”, officially registering its websites to pre-empt cybersquatters who could buy domain names with team trademarks and trade them later or divert Internet traffic. There could also be situations such as the unauthorized linking of team websites to other websites.
Some teams have also got copyrights for website layout design and uniforms that they may share with companies that manufacture and sell uniforms and sports articles. For instance, Singh adds, Reebok has been given the licence to market Chennai Super Kings uniforms.
A sports, entertainment and media management company hired by IPL, IMG, conducted workshops this year for the teams to tackle various event-related issues, including legal challenges and IP. Says Singh, “All this was well thought of by IPL in advance. At the workshop, we were told to keep all our contracts watertight besides going through guidelines relating to IP issues.”
Ryder adds, “IPL guidelines have been put in place and we are using them as a blueprint but each team is left to what more it can do.”
Talking of potential IP issues IPL will have to deal with, experts point to the 2007 case where the English Premier League sued YouTube and Google for the unauthorized download of match clips. IPL clips are available on the sites for viewing. “Telecasting is a major issue. This is not new but gets highlighted at the time of big sporting events,” says Neel Mason, managing partner of Mason and Associates.
Potential for litigation
Though there are no court cases yet in any Indian courts, going ahead, he sees a “potential for litigation” relating to trademark infringement, ambush marketing and telecasting rights by IPL and the teams. “The magnitude of the event brings upon a greater potential for legal disputes,” he says.
Another challenge, adds Ryder, will be controlling violations, if any, on fan websites. “How do you deal with this? If the fans are using and misusing your IP, do you want to get them on board or antagonize them and take them to court? ”
Both Singh and Darshan agree that the value of the teams will be more if they create IP bouquets.
“The more IP you protect the more property you create. It is akin to protecting tangible property. If you don’t have an IP portfolio, it’s like saying I have possession of a house but don’t have the papers. The more you have the more you are protecting and auditing,” says Ryder. IP will become especially important as the tournament evolves and teams go up for sale.
Singh says the teams are basking right now in the event’s popularity and are still coming to terms with numerous business and legal issues. So, he says, there hasn’t been any legal action against misuse of IP. “We have not yet reached that stage.” Misuse of IP, he says, can be a “double-edged sword”—it hurts revenues but also reflects the popularity of the event and the teams.