Betting and Gaming in Sweden: The Race for Trade Mark Protection

Sweden’s current regulatory regime means that there are only two operators that hold licences to operate betting and gaming operations in Sweden.  Aktiebolaget Trav och Galopp (ATG) handles the horse racing trade, whilst Svenska Spel AB covers all other aspects, including the country’s casinos. Both operators are partially state run.

However, things will soon be changing. Following a review commissioned by the Swedish government, a report was issued 31st March 2017 entitled “A Re-regulated Gaming Market”.[1] The report focused on delivering higher consumer protection in relation to the unregulated, online betting and gaming market, suggesting a new Gambling Act that would implement clear regulatory conditions and open up the market to private companies. Wiggin’s analysis of the report can be found here.

The new regulations will allow companies other than ATG and Svenska Spel AB to obtain licences for various online betting and gaming operations within Sweden, dissolving the monopoly the two companies hold.

The report stated that the value of the betting and gaming market in Sweden was SEK21bn[2] (£1.9bn) in 2016, with foreign, online operators holding 23% of this market.[3]

Various operators are considering the extension of their brands into Sweden, but the usual rules of engagement regarding trade mark clearance need to be factored in at an early stage.

The Trade Mark Race: ATG v Legolas.bet

Malta-based company, Legolas Invest Limited (LIL) operate the online horse betting website, Legolas.bet. Last year ATG was in talks with LIL to acquire the business. Those talks ultimately broke down, but shortly afterwards (November 2016) ATG applied to register the word LEGOLAS as an EU Trade Mark (EUTM) in respect of various goods and services relating to betting and gaming.

A few weeks later (December 2016) LIL countered with their own trade marks in respect of similar goods and services.  They filed:

  • defensive EUTM applications for their logo in colour  and black & white  , which reflected their actual use on their website (www.legolas.bet); and
  • a Swedish application was filed for the word mark LEGOLAS.BET.

Fast-forward to February this year, and LIL’s EUTM application was published for opposition purposes.  Not to be undone, this time ATG responded.  They applied for the LEGOLAS word mark again, but this time in Sweden.  In doing so they claimed priority from their earlier EUTM application, which effectively back-dated it to take effect as of November 2016 (i.e. before the date of LIL’s word mark).

The day after ATG filed its application in Sweden, the Swedish Registry contacted LIL to notify them that its application for LEGOLAS.BET would be suspended in light of ATG’s earlier rights.

ATG’s Swedish word mark (LEGOLAS) then proceeded to registration, and they followed this up with an opposition against LIL’s EUTMs. They then issued proceedings against LIL for trade mark infringement in Stockholm’s district Patent and Market Court.

Not to be undone, LIL applied to the court to revoke ATG’s Swedish trade mark registration, claiming the application was made in bad faith, and also submitted a complaint to the Swedish Competition Authority with regards to ATG abusing their power of monopoly.

The latest standings with a few furlongs to go… 

ATG’s plea for the injunction against LIL was heard by the Swedish court on 19 June 2017. The court rejected ATG’s plea, it being acknowledged that LIL had put forward convincing evidence to support its contention that ATG had applied for its Swedish trade mark in bad faith.

ATG has three weeks to appeal.  At the same time, LIL’s revocation action against ATG’s LEGOLAS mark and the EU opposition hearings are still to be decided.

The Importance of Obtaining Trade Marks in Sweden for the Betting and Gaming Sector

This case underlines how important it is for betting and gaming companies to take early advice on the extension of their key brands into new jurisdictions.  The risk of not carrying out appropriate clearance checks and filing applications before engaging in activities which are likely to expose any lack of protection is clear to see.

If LIL had secured trade mark protection prior to entering into discussions with ATG, the issues it is currently facing could have been avoided.

For any industry stakeholders wishing to take advantage of the local licence and the opportunity to operate in this fast growing market, it is important to be able to establish and protect their brand. The new online Swedish gaming regulatory regime is edging ever closer, and it is important for betting and gaming brands not to overlook trade mark protection.

There are three routes to obtaining a trade mark protection that covers Sweden: a national trade mark application in Sweden, an EU trade mark application (covering all EU member states, including Sweden), or an international registration through the World Intellectual Property Office, designating Sweden. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, the balance of which will depend on your current trade mark portfolio and company strategy.

 

[1] ‘En omreglerad spelmarknad’, Swedish Gambling Authority, as summarised in English and published on the Swedish Government website , pages 45-71. http://www.regeringen.se/4969b7/contentassets/29291777554d47e49e717171e4eb5f83/en-omreglerad-spelmarknad-del-1-av-2-kapitel-1-21-sou-201730

[2] ‘En omreglerad spelmarknad’, Swedish Gambling Authority, as summarised in English and published on the Swedish Government website ,  page 48, paragraph 2. http://www.regeringen.se/4969b7/contentassets/29291777554d47e49e717171e4eb5f83/en-omreglerad-spelmarknad-del-1-av-2-kapitel-1-21-sou-201730

[3] ‘En omreglerad spelmarknad’, Swedish Gambling Authority, as summarised in English and published on the Swedish Government website ,  page 47, paragraph 3. http://www.regeringen.se/4969b7/contentassets/29291777554d47e49e717171e4eb5f83/en-omreglerad-spelmarknad-del-1-av-2-kapitel-1-21-sou-201730