Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton loses three year ‘Hamilton’ trade mark battle to Swiss watchmaking company Hamilton International

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has ruled in favour of a Swiss watchmaking firm after a three-year trade mark battle for the name ‘Hamilton’ with Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.

Part of the Swiss Swatch group since 2007, Hamilton International filed to trade mark ‘Hamilton’ in the European Union, hence granting them exclusive use of the name brand on accessories, including watches, across Europe. Hamilton International, prior to being bought by Swath, was founded in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1892 and claims to have been an established brand decades before the birth of Lewis Hamilton in 1985, providing watches to the likes of Elvis Presley and Marlene Dietrich as seen in the movies ‘Shanghai Express (1932)’ and ‘Blue Hawaii (1961)’ respectively.

Regardless, Lewis Hamilton’s legal team and consequent cancellation applicant in the case, 44IP, pursued an attempt to void the trade mark application of ‘Hamilton’ by Hamilton International, claiming it was filed in bad faith and the lack of use meant it frustrated fair competition.

However, the EUIPO ruled that as the contested trade mark application was for the common surname ‘Hamilton’, as opposed to ‘Lewis Hamilton’, there was no argument to be made concerning Lewis Hamilton’s Intellectual Property rights, particularly as there is no ‘natural right’ granted to a person to register their own name where it may infringe the rights of a third party, Hamilton International in this case.

Furthermore, the EUIPO rejected any findings of bad faith on part of Hamilton International, evidencing them as an established brand which had ‘demonstrated a significant economic activity in the horological field since 1892’. Regarding the claims from 44IP that the filing of the trade mark concerned thwarted fair competition, the racing drivers team spoke of plans to manufacture accessories, including watches and smartwatches, branded with the proposed trade mark ‘Lewis Hamilton’. Hamilton International disputed the filing of ‘Lewis Hamilton’ as a trade mark, claiming they had no intention of facilitating a rival firm in gaining rights to a similar mark to the one of which they are existing proprietor, particularly to be used to create goods which are ‘practically identical’ to their own and which may confuse their existing clientele.

The decision to fail the arguments from 44IP concerning the trade mark intellectual property rights of driver Lewis Hamilton, following refusal of an initial cancellation application in December 2019, was passed on from the EUIPO’s Board of Appeal. 44IP were ordered to pay Hamilton International £893 in contribution to their costs following the case.

44IP Limited are currently the trade mark owners of ‘LH44’ for a variety of classifications, including watches, standing for Lewis Hamilton 44, whereby 44 is the number that has been used on his racing car in Formula One since 2014.

By Ellie King, student from Southampton Solent University.

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