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The Messi Exit: A Legal & Financial Perspective

Behind the passions of the fans, tackled goals, swanky parties and brand endorsements, there is a lot that goes into structuring a football team/club, registration as well as the transfer of a player while maintaining sustainable finances. 

In response to multiple financial irregularities in clubs such as Deportivo La Coruña, Racing Santander, Valencia, Real Zaragoza, Real Mallorca, Albacete, Real Betis etc., the economic control framework was introduced in 2013 to keep clubs financially afloat and maintain competitive sustainability.

At a later stage, FFP (Financial Fair Play) came into effect against errant clubs for breach of regulations. Spain’s economic control- La Liga controls the fire before it can damage (to an extent) by setting a limit to the amount a club can spend, thereby making it easier to stay within limits and preventing the creation of unsustainable debts. 

What were the legal reasons for Messi’ s exit from Barcelona?

 

Recently Argentinean professional footballer Lionel Andrés Messi, popularly known as Leo Messi, decided to part ways with the Spanish football club FC Barcelona and join the French football club Paris Saint-Germain. Messi had been with the Spanish club for the last 21 years and their association came to an end on 30th June 2021, when they decided to move on.

Messi had agreed to a new five-year contract with Barcelona, however on 8th August 2021, the legendary football player announced his exit from the Spanish club, by signing a two-year contract with the French club Paris Saint-Germain, with the option of further extension up to a year. FC Barcelona announced that despite the agreement between the club and Messi, they were not able to honour the new contract due to the Spanish football league’s (LaLiga’s) financial fair-play rules. 

 

What is LaLiga Financial Fair-play Rule? 

 

Under the LaLiga fair play rule, each club is provided with a cost limit for each season, which includes the wages of the players, the coaching staff, physios, reserve teams, etc. Clubs have the flexibility to decide how the wages are distributed, as long as the overall limit is not breached. Factors taken into consideration for setting the financial cap are inclusive of expected revenues, profits and losses from previous years, existing debt repayments, and sources of external financing among others. In this case, the Catalan club could not accommodate Messi’s contract within the financial limit for the upcoming year, even though Messi was allegedly willing to take a 50% pay cut. 

Considering the fact that Messi is Barcelona’s record scorer with 751 goals and 10 La Liga titles, Messi’s exit could mean a heavy blow for the world’s most valuable[1] European football club. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales, and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales, and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season. However, there is no question over how Messi has played an important role in bringing laurels to Barcelona over the past few years, which has garnered a significant fan following, not just for the footballer, but also for the club. Thus, his exit may likely cause a dip in the viewership and fan following which will directly affect the Club’s revenue.

Typically for a footballer, his contract with any club would include basic salary, signing-on fees, royalty fees, and objectives based on games. Apart from these, some of the other key element included in a contract is his image rights, merchandising right and licensing deals, which form a major portion of any footballer’s gross income. 

 

What are Image Rights? 

Image rights are the expression of a personality in the public domain. For an athlete, it will include their name, photo, and likeness, signature, personal brand, slogans, or logos, etc. Generally, football clubs try to extract a greater percentage from the image rights of a player, in a club capacity as compared to their personal capacity. Club capacity is usually when the image rights of the player are used in connection with or combined with his name, colours, crest, strip, logos identifying him as a player for his club. Personal capacity is usually when the player is appearing in and conducting activities outside his role as a player at the club. 

Any player leaving the club would have an impact on the commercial revenue generated by the club in the form of sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales as well as digital content. This would be especially notable for a player like Messi, whose personal brand value boasts over 130 trademarks. Messi’s trademark portfolio consists of mostly a single class trademark in his home country of Argentina, with others filed or registered in China, Brazil, EU, Malaysia, UK, Spain, Canada, Chile, and the US. The most common goods and services represented in Messi’s trademark portfolio are class 25 (clothing and footwear), class 28 (games, toys, and sporting apparatus) and class 9 (computer software). Apart from the above classes, class 18 has been filed in multiple applications.

The trademark consists of either the word mark MESSI/LIONEL MESSI or his logo. This means that Barcelona will no longer be able to use the footballer’s name or logo for apparel and merchandise sales, which will directly impact its revenue as most clubs collect a portion of the sales revenue. Also, Messi’s exit means that the club will have no control over his image rights to attract corporate sponsorships. Further, Messi’s huge online presence, with over 276 million Instagram followers, which is more than double of Barcelona’s official account (100 million), will have a direct impact on any advertising or publicity that the club may generate. 

A player of Messi’s stature, brand, and persona is significant to any club. How the present scenario is played with the new club and how much impact Messi’s presence will bring to Paris Saint-Germain is yet to be seen. 

A football clubs’ main revenue is generated from TV broadcasting rights, matchday sales and commercial revenue which includes sponsorship contracts, merchandising sales and digital content that the club creates. It is too early to say whether Messi’s departure will have an impact on how Barcelona performs in the ongoing season.

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A Brief Analysis of the Patents (Amendment) Rules, 2019

The Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) vide its notification dated September 17, 2019, has published the Patents (Amendment) Rules, 2019[i] (hereinafter the “Rules”) amending the Patents Rules, 2003 (hereinafter the “Principal Rules”). The amendment came into force from the date of notification.

 

The Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade) vide its notification dated September 17, 2019, has published the Patents (Amendment) Rules, 2019[i] (hereinafter the “Rules”) amending the Patents Rules, 2003 (hereinafter the “Principal Rules”). The amendment came into force from the date of notification.

 

The highlights of the amendments are as follows:

 

  1. Rule 6: Leaving and serving documents

 

The amended Rules substitute Rule 6 (1-A) with the following:

“Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-rule (1), a patent agent shall file, leave, make or give all documents only by electronic transmission duly authenticated:

Provided that any document, if asked to be submitted in original, shall be submitted within a period of fifteen days, failing which such documents shall be deemed not to have been filed.”

 

Analysis: This amendment is brought to reduce the burden of submission of scanned copies of original documents subsequent to the filing of the same online. The amendment clarifies that the original copies are required to be submitted only when requested by the Indian Patent Office, within 15 days from the date of request.

 

  1. Rule 7: Fees

 

The amended Rules substitute the second proviso of Rule 7(1) with the following:

“Provided further that in the case of a small entity, or startup, every document, for which a fee has been specified, shall be accompanied by Form-28.”

 

Analysis: Again, this amendment is merely clarificatory in nature with respect to the filing of Form 28 along with documents that specify fee. In the principal rule, the provision existed only for small entities and the word ‘startup’ was not expressly mentioned. However, it was already in practice i.e. the patent office required Form 28 to be submitted with documents requiring fee even for startups.

 

  1. Rule 24-C: Expedited examination of applications

 

The amended Rules substitute Rule 24C(1)(b) with the following:  

“(b) that the applicant is a startup; or

(c) that the applicant is a small entity; or

(d) that if the applicant is a natural person or in the case of joint applicants, all the applicants are natural persons, then the applicant or at least one of the applicants is a female; or

(e) that the applicant is a department of the Government; or

(f) that the applicant is an institution established by a Central, Provincial or State Act, which is owned or controlled by the Government; or

(g) that the applicant is a Government company as defined in clause (45) of section 2 of the Companies Act, 2013 (18 of 2013); or

(h) that the applicant is an institution wholly or substantially financed by the Government;

Explanation:- For the purpose of this clause, the term ‘substantially financed’ shall have the same meaning as in the Explanation to sub-section (1) of section 14 of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (Duties, Powers and Conditions of Service) Act, 1971(56 of 1971); or

(i) that the application pertains to a sector which is notified by the Central Government on the basis of a request from the head of a department of the Central Government.:

 Provided that public comments are invited before any such notification; or

(j) that the applicant is eligible under an arrangement for processing a patent application pursuant to an agreement between Indian Patent Office and a foreign Patent Office.

Explanation: – The patentability of patent applications filed under clause (j) above will be in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Act.”

 

Analysis: The Principal Rules had provision for expedited examinations only in case of startups and international applications where India was a competent searching/examining authority, however, that has been amended to include additional categories of applicant such as small entity, natural person(s) having at least one female applicant, institution or department of Government or controlled by Government. Also, Government companies, institutions wholly or substantially financed by the Government, sectors notified by the Government and applicants eligible under an agreement with a foreign patent office can also file for expedited examination. This amendment will motivate other categories of applicants to have fast track examination of patent applications for early grant of patent.

 

Further, in order to accommodate the said categories, the corresponding Form 18A has been amended.

 

  1. First Schedule: Transmittal Fee & Certified copy fee towards filing an International Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application

 

The amended Rules add:

  1. If the PCT application is filed online, the applicant is not required to pay any fee towards the Transmittal fee. Earlier applicants were required to pay fees ranging from 3200 to 16000. The fees for physical filing remain unchanged.
  2. If a request is filed for preparation of a certified copy of priority document and sharing the same via e-transmission through WIPO DAS, the applicant is not required to pay any fee for the same. Earlier applicants had to pay fees ranging from 1000 to 5000. The fees for physical filing remain unchanged.

 

The amendment in the Rules, especially the expansion of the expedited examination system, would augment the government’s patent prosecution highway (PPH) program that intends to harmonize the patent examination standards and encourage the filing of patent applications in India. In September 2018, after the Second JPO- DIPP Review Meeting in August 2018, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) had agreed in principle, to start a bilateral PPH program on a pilot basis in certain identified fields of inventions in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019.[ii] The amendment seems to be a result of the agreement and the intention of improving the overall IP environment of the country. Additionally, the waiver of the transmittal and certified copy fees would also increase the filing of PCT applications and facilitate the ease of doing business in India.

The amendment in the Rules, especially the expansion of the expedited examination system, would augment the government’s patent prosecution highway (PPH) program that intends to harmonize the patent examination standards and encourage the filing of patent applications in India. In September 2018, after the Second JPO- DIPP Review Meeting in August 2018, the Japan Patent Office (JPO) and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) had agreed in principle, to start a bilateral PPH program on a pilot basis in certain identified fields of inventions in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019

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