Rugby World Cup 2015 Etiquette: What Your Business Needs to Know

With the opening ceremony for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) kicking off tomorrow in London at 6am NZST, it is safe to say that RWC fever has officially hit home. Businesses may recall that when New Zealand hosted the tournament in 2011, there were stringent guidelines via the Major Events Management Act around how and when traders could market goods and services which made reference to the RWC or the All Blacks. While the 2015 tournament is based in England, this does not mean that NZ businesses can get carried away in showing their support for the RWC. They still need to consider the potential risk of infringing the intellectual property rights of the owners of the RWC and ALL BLACKS brands.

Trade Marks

The Irish company, Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL), is the owner of an impressive portfolio of registered trade marks in both New Zealand and internationally, in respect of the RWC brand. Marks on the New Zealand register include ‘RUGBY WORLD CUP’, ‘RWC’ and the logo:


The registrations cover a vast array of goods and services, including sporting activities, rugby balls, clothing, and even stationery and household utensils.

New Zealand Rugby Union Incorporated (NZRU) is an incorporated society which is the owner of multiple registrations in both New Zealand and internationally. Marks on the New Zealand register include ‘ALL BLACKS’ and the logo:


These marks are registered for a variety of goods and services, including sporting activities and clothing.

The trade marks of both the RWCL and the NZRU are well known and businesses should be wary of using these trade marks in association with their own goods and services, so as not to mislead or deceive consumers into thinking that their goods are in some way associated with the RWC or the All Blacks. If this is the case, they may be liable for trade mark infringement.

New Zealand is no stranger to trade mark issues when it comes to Rugby. In 2011, Giltrap Audi was told by the NZRU during the world cup season to remove a large sign with the lettering “Go the All Blacks”. The sign was replaced with “Go the ABs”, at significant cost to Giltrap Audi. More recently, it was reported that the launch of a black burger bun by fast food chain Wendy’s became the subject of discussions between the burger chain and a “certain sports team” over whether the burger had the potential to infringe trade marks associated with that team.

In both cases, Giltrap Audi and Wendy’s were far from pleased. The chairman of Giltrap Audi described his experience with the NZRU as “bloody ridiculous”, saying he had “never heard anything so stupid in my life”. CEO of Wendy’s NZ Danielle Lendich said that the discussions around the burger “highlights the ridiculous debate that can happen around certain words and events”.

On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that trade mark owners have often expended a considerable amount of time and resources to protect their branding. If brand owners were to acquiesce to or tolerate unauthorized uses of their trade marks, their ability to defend their trade marks against future breaches may be diminished in the eyes of the law. In the sporting context, businesses often pay large sums to become sponsors of teams and tournaments; they would have no incentive to do so if their competitors were also associating themselves with those teams and tournaments, devaluing the association which the sponsor would have otherwise received.


Copyright protects artistic and literary works, such as logos, shirt designs, and publications from unauthorised use. New Zealand businesses should be careful not to reproduce material associated with the RWC or other sports teams as these materials may be protected by copyright. As New Zealand and the United Kingdom are parties to the Berne Convention, the rights of copyright authors in the UK are recognized by the NZ courts. Copyright infringement can occur if a ‘substantial part’ of a work is copied.

Fair Trading & Passing Off

Businesses should also consider their obligations under the Fair Trading Act so not to mislead or deceive consumers in trade. Section 13 of the Act prohibits conduct which constitutes a false or misleading representation that a person has any sponsorship, approval, endorsement or affiliation.

The tort of passing off may also apply if as a result of misleading or deceptive conduct, a trader suffers damage to their goodwill.


As with any major sporting event, there are bound to be a number of intellectual property disputes regarding the RWC in New Zealand and worldwide. In addition to the rugby, we will be following this topic with close interest over the course of the tournament.

Go the ABs!