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06 Jul 2020
BY Gaelyn Scott

The Greek Freak and celebrity trade marks

One of the biggest names in US basketball right now is Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis is huge in every way and he’s the NBA’s current MVP (Most Valuable Player). For years Giannis has been all over the sports news but now Giannis is making IP news too. That’s because he’s become involved in trade mark disputes.

The name Giannis Antetokounmpo, hardly rolls off the tongue. Which may just be why the basketball star has a nickname, the Greek Freak. If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound like a very nice name, the moniker does of course refer to both the star’s heritage and his sporting prowess. It’s the nickname that is at the centre of the trade mark proceedings.

image source

Nicknames are very common in the world of  sport. In basketball Kobe Bryant was The Black Mamba or just plain Mamba, whereas Lebron James is King James. The world’s greatest male tennis player is Fed-ex, followed closely by Rafa. The most charismatic of the current crop of heavweight boxers is the Gypsy King, whereas the most newsworthy football manager is the Special One.

In South Africa we like to give our sports personalites nicknames too. Remember Biff (Graham Smith), Rhoo aka The Chief (Lucas Radebe) and Nasty Booter (Naas Botha). In golf we had the Big Easy (Ernie Els) and, of course, the big daddy of them all, the Black Knight (Gary Player), who has recently been involved in legal proccedings for unpaid royalties with a company run by his son Marc (awkward) – these proceedings have resulted in Gary getting a USD5-million payout. In some cases it may be the sportsperson or team that creates the nickname, but in others it’s the fans, as famously happened in the case of Bafana Bafana (the South African football team), a name eventually and reluctantly acknowledged by the football authorities (SAFA) after it had become clear that it wasn’t going to go away.

Greek Freak enforces his rights

But back to the Greek Freak. What Giannis is doing is instituting legal proceedings to enforce his rights against a number of companies in the USA that are using his nickname without approval. In an article that appeared on 3 June 2020 in The TMCA, “The Greek Freak Flexes His Trademark Muscles”, we’re told that these proceedings involve various online retailers, and that the unauthorised goods feature both the nickname and Giannis’s likeness.

So what exactly is going on here? Well, when you have to scrape by on an annual salary of no more than USD25-million it’s not a bad idea to create some additional revenue streams. And that is why Giannis has obtained trade mark registrations for the name Greek Freak. He also has pending applications for Greek Fr34K, with 34 beings his vest number. Giannis claims to have commercialised his nickname by licensing it, together with his image, to various companies.

Celebrity trade marks

This story illustrates the extraordinary commercial opportunities that come the way of famous sportsmen and women, and indeed all celebrities. These opportunities aren’t limited to the celebrities’ real names, they might extend to nicknames, likenesses, signatures, catchphrases and squad numbers.

What the smart, or well advised, celebrity does is register their name, nickname, signature, likeness, catchphrase and the like as a trade mark. They register in the countries where they feel they are most likely to need protection. These will certainly be countries that are commercially important and they may also be countries where piracy is very likely. They register trade marks for the goods and services in respect of which they are most likely to enter into licensing arrangements such as clothing, sporting goods and cosmetics, but licensing opportunities might also exist for a host of services.

The next step is to enter into licence agreements with manufacturing or service-oriented compaines that then use the trade marks on goods or services. The celebrity then receives royalty payments for the use of the trade marks. The wise celebrity monitors the markets to ensure that no unauthorised users are using the trade marks. If they do find unauthorised use, they enforce their rights. They let it be known that they will not tolerate any infringements of their rights.

Fame is fleeting and wise celebrities know that they need to act quickly if they want to make a real fortune.


Gaelyn Scott

Executive | Head of Department | IP

+27 83 632 1445