Using a surname as a trademark or part of a trademark has been the subject of numerous case-laws and has been widely discussed in the literature. However, it seems that after the Messi case (cases C-449/18 P and C-474/18 P), the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) seems to have departed from their previous approach where it was held that surnames in trademarks should be treated as normal signs. In the Messi case, the CJEU, however, ruled that the reputation of Messi – an internationally famous football player – is so well known that an average consumer, seeing the ‘MESSI’ mark placed on clothing, gymnastic or sporting articles and protective equipment, will establish a link between the mark and the sports personality, despite the similarity between the ‘MESSI’ mark to the ‘MASSI’ brand name, a previously registered trademark. However, this ruling gives rise to the following questions, which this article seeks to address:
- How can one prove that someone’s surname is globally recognised?
- Why did the CJEU decide that Messi is better known than, for instance, Picasso who was the subject of the previous case? Who else can be as famous as Messi if Picasso was held not to be?
- Has Messi changed the CJEU’s approach and opened the floodgates to expand trademark protection for an unlimited number of trademarks?
This article attempts to answer these questions.