Manchester United Alleges Trademark Infringement through Third-Party Mods to Football Manager

Manchester United Football Club Ltd. v. Sega Publishing Europe Ltd. and Sports Interactive Ltd.
Claim number: IL-2018-000085
Filed August 2018

On May 22, 2020, football club Manchester United asked a London judge for permission to amend its lawsuit that alleges that Sega Publishing and Sports Interactive (“SI”), the publisher and developer of soccer team management video game Football Manager, infringed Manchester United’s trademarks. The proposed amendments directly target third-party mods which Manchester United alleges infringe Manchester United trademarks.

In its original filings, Manchester United alleged that Sega and SI have infringed its trademark by using its name throughout the game. Manchester United also alleged that Sega and SI’s use of a generic striped crest next to the Manchester United name, instead of its official trademarked crest, deprived Manchester United of its right to license its club crest to Sega and SI. Manchester United’s amended claims further allege that Sega and SI supported the use of third-party mod add-ons to the game which allow players to replace the generic striped crest with Manchester United’s trademarked crest. Sega and SI claim that they have not encouraged these mods and cannot control the actions of third-party mod providers, but Manchester United provided screenshots of the defendants’ website and that of a website selling third-party mods for the game, showing references on each to the mod site being approved and affiliated with Sega and SI.

Manchester United has likened Sega and SI’s alleged support of the third-party mods for Football Manager to one person selling unlabeled handbags, and another selling Gucci labels, that when combined create a counterfeit product.

In response to Manchester United’s complaints, Sega and SI have argued that including the “Manchester United” name in Football Manager is a legitimate reference to the team in a football context. Indeed, Sega and SI assert that they have used the term “Manchester United” in their games since 1992 without complaint by Manchester United.

The judge reserved judgment on the addition of the new claim to a later date.