Roger Federer and Nike are locked in a battle over the 'RF' brand — but a legal expert believes it's a fight Nike could win and 'exploit'

Getty ImagesRoger Federer and the custom ‘RF’ logo he used to wear, when sponsored by Nike.
  • Roger Federer is locked in a head-to-head dispute with Nike over the rights to a “RF” logo that was designed for him in 2010.
  • Federer left Nike for Uniqlo earlier in the year, but the rights to the “RF” branding remain attached to Nike.
  • Federer once implied the logo would soon transfer over to him but a legal expert believes it may not be a smooth transition as Nike’s legal position is strong, and the clothing giant could continue to exploit the branding.

Roger Federer is used to competing on the courts, but the 20-time Grand Slam tennis champion appears to be locked in a boardroom battle with Nike – and it’s all to do with the rights to his personalised “RF” branding.

Federer left Nike for lesser-known brand Uniqlo earlier in the year, in a move that saw his sponsorship revenue stream leap by 300% – earning him a reported $US30 million a year. But the “RF” branding that he wore near Nike’s iconic swish remains attached to his former sponsor, as it was Nike, not Federer, who created the design in 2010.

Federer said recently that he wants the “RF” branding back. However, a legal expert who specialises in intellectual property (IP) believes Nike is in the strongest position to retain ownership of the logo.

Jacqueline Pang, a trademark attorney at specialist IP Mewburn Ellis, told Tennis World USA that Nike’s legal position is strong and that it could continue to exploit the brand, but warned that by doing so, the clothing giant may alienate a fanbase that is more loyal to Federer, rather than Nike.

“Nike has a potentially difficult PR path to navigate: retaining legal control of the RF brand may be a Pyrrhic victory if it means alienating Federer’s passionate and loyal fanbase on whom the value of the brand presumably rests,” Pang said.

She added that be brand’s legal position “seems strong.”

“It owns a number of trade mark registrations around the world for the RF logo and presumably also owns the copyright. Barring anything in the contract to the contrary, it could retain ownership of the brand and continue to exploit it.

“In that case, it would also be in a position to prevent Federer or any third parties (like Uniqlo) from using the RF logo or anything similar for clothing and related goods.”

Pang did note that much will depend on the contract between Nike and Roger Federer himself, and “to what extent provision was made for such an eventuality.”

Such an eventuality may have been thought of long ago, as Federer himself believes the ownership of the “RF” logo will eventually transfer over to him.

He recently said that the “RF” branding “will come to me at some point,” according to Tennis World USA. And, in what could be a nod to a contractual stipulation, he added that the logo is “not theirs forever.”

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