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Trademark infringement by means of NFTs – Intellectual property enforcement within the digital world. | Hogan Lovells

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Hogan Lovells


The trademark portfolio of soccer membership Juventus FC (Juventus) consists of the phrase logos JUVE and JUVENTUS in addition to a tool trademark consisting of a black and white striped T-shirt with two stars on the chest. The logos primarily gained popularity by means of widespread merchandising actions in numerous sectors (together with clothes, video games, equipment and so forth.) – each on-line and thru brick and mortar shops.

In 2021, a tech-start-up based the mission “Coin of Champions”, a web based soccer supervisor recreation supported by former and present athletes that’s primarily based on NFT participant playing cards. Taking part in playing cards within the type of NFTs had been supplied on the market on an NFT-platform between 7 April 2022 and 4 Could 2022. 68 of those NFT enjoying playing cards reproduced the logos at subject. They present an image of the previous soccer participant Christian Vieri with a Juventus shirt and the membership’s particulars. Juventus had initiated preliminary injunction proceedings in opposition to the use stating that that they had not given their consent. The NFT enjoying playing cards generated a revenue of over $35,000.

Choice of the Courtroom of Rome (Tribunale di Roma, choice of 20. July 2022, ref. 32072/2022).)

The Courtroom of Rome dominated that, in precept, NFTs may certainly infringe upon logos. Based on the courtroom, using the NFT enjoying playing cards for business functions with out Juventus’ consent constituted not solely a trademark infringement, but additionally unfair competitors ensuing from the unauthorized use of the logos and the unfair exploitation of the benefits related to them (Juventus was additionally lively within the sector at subject by means of its merchandising actions).

With regard to the trademark infringement, the courtroom acknowledged additional that the mere consent of the participant depicted on the enjoying playing cards was not enough to justify use of the logos. The participant`s consent may solely grant use of the participant`s picture rights, however not Juventus` trademark rights. Using the NFTs for business functions additionally had required consent of Juventus because the trademark proprietor.

The Courtroom can be of the view that the Juventus logos had been well-known logos because it thought-about Juventus to be essentially the most profitable Italian soccer staff with (one in every of) the biggest variety of followers in Italy and overseas. As a result of their standing as “well-known trademarks” and the broad scope of safety that comes with this standing, it was not essential to think about whether or not they had been registered in relation to “digital objects” and even “digital objects certified by NFTs”.

Nevertheless, the Courtroom additionally highlights the truth that the Juventus logos had been in any occasion registered in Class 9 of the Good Classification for “digital downloadable publications”. Therefore, there was a similarity between the products in query anyway. The courtroom emphasised that the scope of safety of a trademark (specifically with regard to class 9) additionally prolonged to items which weren’t included within the Good Classification, however had been inherent to the products listed within the respective class. Class 9 thus additionally included downloadable digital recordsdata authenticated by NFTs. The Courtroom of Rome additionally distinguishes between digital content material reproducing a trademark and the digital certificates as such. Each the digital content material and the digital certificates had been every to be thought-about as being a trademark infringement within the case at subject. Based on the Courtroom, NFTs had their very own authorized standing, which must be assessed individually from their content material.

NFTs within the context of German trademark regulation and the EU Trademark Regulation

From a German (and wider European) perspective, there’s nonetheless a sure diploma of uncertainty when coping with NFTs underneath trademark regulation. For instance, it has not but been conclusively clarified by which Good courses NFTs might be categorised. Whereas the ruling of the Courtroom of Rome signifies a classification as items in school 9, a classification in school 35 (‘provision of an online marketplace’) or in school 42 (‘user authentication services using blockchain technology’) for the associated providers may also be doable.

The replace of the Good courses, which got here into pressure on 1 January 2023, explicitly consists of the time period NFTs in school 9 (‘downloadable digital files authenticated by non-fungible tokens [NFTs]’) and thus offers some extra authorized certainty. If logos are for use in reference to NFTs, it’s due to this fact advisable to additionally register them in school 9; along with different courses which is likely to be of curiosity. In any other case, there’s a threat that the trademark may not take pleasure in enough safety in one in every of its important fields of utility. This is applicable specifically to logos that aren’t well-known, because the scope of safety of well-known logos is already a lot broader. Underneath German and European trademark regulation, well-known logos, apart from “normal” logos, don’t essentially rely upon a similarity and even identification between the products/providers for which they’re protected and the digital items/providers in query with a purpose to take pleasure in safety in opposition to NFT infringements. Nevertheless, how broadly the scope of safety is interpreted has not but been conclusively clarified by the courts; particularly not in reference to NFTs and the metaverse. Furthermore, not all digital items authenticated by NFTs will match into class 9. Solely materials that’s downloadable matches into this class. For instance, NFTs also can confirm actual objects and such items don’t belong to class 9.

Relating to a trademark utility for providers in reference to NFTs, at the least the European Union Intellectual Property Workplace (EUIPO) explicitly mentions in its 2023 draft tips (Trade mark guidelines (, p. 344, 6.25 “Downloadable goods and virtual goods”) that such trademark purposes needed to be categorised in line with the established ideas of classification for providers. Nevertheless, the EUIPO (and the Courtroom of Rome) differentiates: NFTs would authenticate (digital) objects, however needed to be distinguished from them. A trademark utility solely for NFTs is due to this fact not admissible. Based on the EUIPO, the particular kind of (digital) merchandise authenticated by the NFT needed to be indicated. In precept, this appears fairly cheap. In any other case, a big a part of the metaverse, for example, may very well be monopolized by a couple of trademark purposes. Nevertheless, this additionally signifies that corporations ought to query by which (digital and digital) areas they want to function by means of NFTs earlier than submitting a trademark utility. In spite of everything, the checklist of products and providers can’t be modified as soon as the trademark utility has been filed. Nevertheless, care must be taken to make sure well timed use of the ‘NFT trademarks’, as in any other case they might grow to be topic to cancellation proceedings upon expiry of the grace interval of use. It’s due to this fact not enough to acquire registration for the widest doable scope of safety.

Trademark infringement exceptions

It must also be stored in thoughts that using one other`s trademark doesn’t routinely result in a trademark infringement; neither in the actual nor within the digital world. For instance, using logos for merely descriptive or for identification functions or as a easy reference normally doesn’t represent any trademark infringement. Case regulation concerning the “analogue world” must also be relevant in its ideas to the digital counterpart (see, for example, German Federal Courtroom of Justice (BGH), judgment of 15 July 2004 – I ZR 37/0, the place the BGH determined, with regard to 3rd occasion spare elements, that one could depict one other’s trademark and one other’s product inside the scope of 1`s personal product promoting, supplied that the opposite’s trademark and product had been solely used as a sign of the sphere of utility, i.e. the meant use of 1`s personal product).

Moreover, NFTs usually create a stress between the liberty of artwork and trademark rights, however the elementary proper of Article 5(3) of the German Structure shouldn’t be with out limits. The liberty of artwork is restricted by different elementary rights and thus additionally by the property assure of Article 14(1) of the German Structure. The latter additionally consists of trademark rights (German Federal Courtroom of Justice (BGH), judgment of three February 2005 – I ZR 159/02). Along with quite a lot of US circumstances dealing particularly with the connection between the liberty of artwork and trademark rights in relation to NFTs, German case regulation offers at the least a place on comparable circumstances. Based on the Federal Courtroom of Justice, the decisive issue to favor one of many elementary freedoms is whether or not there’s an inside distance between the trademark and the signal referring to it, or whether or not the purely business curiosity of the occasion referring to the trademark prevails. If the contents of the disputed signal hardly offers with the trademark, the liberty of artwork can’t justify an infringement of the trademark rights (German Federal Courtroom of Justice (BGH), judgment of two April 2015 – I ZR 59/13). Though the German courtroom selections haven’t but referred to NFTs on this context, they may very well be utilized to them, because the safety of the liberty of artwork can’t be indefinite on this context. Subsequently, an infringement of trademark rights doesn’t all the time should be accepted within the case of artwork NFTs. Nonetheless, it must be assessed in every particular person case to what extent the disputed signal authenticated by the NFT is protected by the liberty of artwork.


NFTs will play an more and more essential function in a trademark associated context; be it concerning the registration of logos, using logos for NFTs, or the infringement of logos by NFTs. Whereas the EUIPO has already taken the rising significance of NFTs into consideration in its draft tips, it is just a matter of time earlier than German and different European courts will subject  associated selections. The choice of the Courtroom of Rome is at the least a primary step into this course.

So in the interim, it stays to be seen how German courts will take care of NFTs from a trademark perspective. What is for certain, nonetheless, is that NFTs are already extremely related and must be on the radar of trademark house owners. Particularly the safety of logos within the metaverse has an ideal potential, however, as defined, additionally entails dangers. On this respect, an adaptation of the trademark technique and monitoring is required with a purpose to meet the particular challenges of each NFT buying and selling platforms and the metaverse, and guarantee complete trademark safety. For instance, a primary step may very well be to regulate prior rights and delimitation agreements and agreements on rights of use, e.g. by incorporating clear provisions with regard to the rights of use within the metaverse.

Cryptocurrencies, NFTs and blockchain – these phrases affect many standard areas of regulation, together with trademark regulation.

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