16 years after the release of Sports Interactive's first Football Manager game, and 28 years after the launch of the first Championship Manager game, Manchester United is suing the developer over the use of its name in the game.
As reported by The Guardian, Manchester United has launched legal action against Sega and Sports Interactive for allegedly infringing its trademark.
Countering, Sega and Sports Interactive said the use of the club's name in the popular simulation series is "a legitimate reference to the Manchester United football team in a football context", and pointed out it has been used in Football Manager and its predecessor Championship Manager since 1992 "without complaint by the claimant".
In a tweet, Sports Interactive boss Miles Jacobson said he was unable to comment on the proceedings.
for obvious reasons, all I can say right now is that I/we can't talk about ongoing legal proceedings....— Miles Jacobson 💙 (@milesSI) May 22, 2020
Sports Interactive developed the Championship Manager games from 1992 before it split with its then publisher Eidos in 2003. From 2004 it has released a Football Manager game every year. Sports Interactive was bought by Sega in 2006.
United also claims Football Manager infringes its trademark of the Manchester United logo by not using the official Manchester United crest in the game. This "deprives the registered proprietor of its right to have the club crest licensed", Manchester United's lawyers said.
"Consumers expect to see the club crest next to the name Manchester United... and this failure to do so amounts to wrongful use," United argued, although the club's lawyer accepted this argument was "somewhat novel, and certainly in the context of video games, but it is certainly arguable".
Countering this, Sega and Sports Interactive's lawyer said the "simplified" club badge used in the game was "one of 14 generic logo templates that is randomly chosen by the Football Manager game engine each time a new game is started" and "clearly indicates that the use of the [logo of] Manchester United is not licensed by the claimant".
On the name issue, Sega and Sports Interactive's lawyers said United is trying to "prevent legitimate competition in the video games field by preventing parties not licensed by the claimant from using the name of the Manchester United football team within such games".
"The claimant has acquiesced in the use by the defendants of the name of the Manchester United football team in the Football Manager game and cannot now complain of such use," reads Sega and Sports Interactive's written defence.
Preventing Football Manager from using Manchester United's name "would amount to an unreasonable restraint on the right to freedom of expression to restrain the use of the words 'Manchester United' to refer to a team in a computer game".
Brilliantly, Sega and Sports Interactive's lawyer pointed out that Sports Interactive has sent copies of Football Manager to officials and players at the club for years, "and there have been a number of positive press comments and tweets about the game by them".
"Further, the claimant's staff working in the data analytics and scouting teams have contacted SI on various occasions asking for access to the Football Manager database for scouting and research purposes."
Of course, current Manchester United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken openly about how he started playing Football Manager when he was a player at the club - and it even helped perfect his tactics.
"It's a fantastic game, I have learned a lot about football from it," Solskjaer said back in 2013. "I remember thinking the same then, that I do as a manager, you want to give young guns the chance and see them develop. Many of my players play FIFA and Football Manager -- I think it helps them to understand football better."
Sega and Sports Interactive's added: "there is no likelihood of confusion or damage to the claimant's EU trademarks... caused by the defendants' activities."
United's lawyer asked Mr Justice Morgan to let the club amend its claim to include an allegation around mods, which include replica trademarks. United's lawyers argue Sega and Sports Interactive "encouraged" this "by promoting the patch providers in various ways and, of course, they directly benefited from it by avoiding the need to take any licence and enjoying increased sales of their game".
According to The Guardian's report, Morgan reserved his judgement on United's application to amend its claim to a later date.
The suit rekindles memories of Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series, which has in the past used fake team names for in-game clubs. Manchester United has gone by a few fake names in PES, such as Aragon, Trad Bricks, and Man Red. Could Football Manager be forced to follow suit?