LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Calling a nine-year legal battle in favor of soccer superstar Lionel Messi on Thursday, the EU’s highest court backed the registration of his name as a trademark for jerseys and gym bags.
“While it was possible that a few consumers had never heard of Mr. Messi Cuccittini or remembered him, this would not be the case with the average, normally attentive, informed and savvy consumer who purchases items or sports clothing,” the European Court of Justice wrote, referring to the world’s highest-paid athlete by his full last name.
The Luxembourg-based court released the ruling in French, the court’s working language, with a translation so far only in Spanish.
Messi, whose full name is Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini, applied to the European Union Office for Intellectual Property, or EUIPO, to register his name and logo in 2011. The owner of another sports apparel brand, Massi, initiated a challenge, arguing that the names were too similar.
In 2013, the EUIPO concluded that names were nearly visually and phonetically identical and therefore Messi could not use his name on clothing for his brand, which describes itself as “the official premium lifestyle brand of soccer legend Leo Messi.”
Messi, who is captain of the Barcelona soccer club, took the case to the EU court after the trademark office snuffed his appeal in 2014.
He prevailed in 2018, with the EU General Court finding that, as one of the most famous athletes in the world, the Argentine forward could use his name and logo in the European Union.
Thursday’s ruling from the Court of Justice nixes the Spanish-clothing brand’s appeal, saying the trademark was wrong to ignore that “a significant part of this public would associate the term ‘messi’ with the name of the famous football player.”
The appeal was joined by the EUIPO itself, which argued that the lower court had overstepped its authority in the case. Here too the high court sided with Messi: “This plea is based on an incorrect reading of the judgment under appeal.”
Messi made global headlines two weeks ago after the leak of a letter to his soccer club, FC Barcelona, informing the team that he wanted to leave. He’s played for the club since 2000, his entire professional career. To avoid a legal battle with the club, however, the 33-year-old decided to stay on for another year
Neither Messi nor Massi responded to a request for comment. The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.