Earlier this year, Roger Federer reportedly signed a 10-year deal with UNIQLO for $300 million USD and left his previous sponsor Nike. Federer had been signed to Nike for the majority of his career but his contract expired in March 2018. Despite the contract being terminated, Nike still own the trademark rights to his signature RF logo, which has caused controversy this week.
Speaking at Wimbledon recently, Federer discussed the branding: “The “RF” logo is with Nike at the moment, but it will come to me at some point. I hope rather sooner than later, that Nike can be nice and helpful in the process to bring it over to me. It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans. They are my initials. They are mine. The good thing is it’s not theirs forever. In a short period of time, it will come to me.”
Despite the rocky relationship, talks are apparently underway for Federer to regain the rights to the mark.
Jacqueline Pang, Trademark Attorney at Mewburn Ellis, commented on the matter:
“As always, much will depend on the contract between Nike and Roger Federer, and whether and to what extent provision was made for such an eventuality. On the face of it, Nike’s legal position seems strong. It owns a number of trademark registrations around the world for the RF logo and presumably also owns the copyright. Barring anything in the contract to the contrary, it could retain ownership of the brand and continue to exploit it. In that case, it would also be in a position to prevent Federer or any third parties (i.e. Uniqlo) from using the RF logo or anything similar for clothing and related goods.”
Jacqueline continued, “There are echoes here of a line of case law concerning fashion designers, notably Elizabeth Emanuel and Karen Millen, who sold their eponymous businesses and were later prevented from using their own names in starting new ventures. Happily, this does not seem to be the case here as Federer himself owns a number of trademark registrations for his full name. However, this might be scant comfort where the RF logo has also become synonymous with the man. Federer’s confident comments in his Wimbledon first round post-match interview may suggest that talks are already underway for the rights in the brand to be transferred to him or that there is a provision in the contract to that effect. Or it could simply be a shrewd move to publicly apply pressure on Nike.”
Finalizing her comments, Pang stated: “Ultimately the legal position may prove irrelevant. Federer sums up the situation as ‘It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans really…They are my initials. They are mine.’ Nike has a potentially difficult PR path to navigate: retaining legal control of the RF brand may be a Pyrrhic victory if it means alienating Federer’s passionate and loyal fanbase on whom the value of the brand presumably rests.”