Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi may register his name as a trademark for sports equipment and clothing, the EU's second-highest court ruled, as he was famous enough to overcome phonetic similarities with Spanish bicycle clothing brand Massi.

The ruling comes days after it emerged that Lionel Messi had overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo as the highest earner in world football, according to
The ruling comes days after it emerged that Lionel Messi had overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo as the highest earner in world football, according to "France Football" magazine. (AFP Archive)

Lionel Messi, the world's top-earning footballer, won a legal battle on Thursday to register his name as a trademark to sell sports goods after an EU court ruled that he was too famous to be confused with other businesses.

The Barcelona and Argentina attacker rode out a seven-year challenge by a Spanish cycling gear manufacturer called Massi, which protested that his trademark was too similar to its own.

"Lionel Messi may register his trademark 'Messi' for sports equipment and clothing," said a ruling by the General Court of the European Union, the bloc's second-highest court.

"The football player's fame counteracts the visual and phonetic similarities between his trademark and the trademark 'Massi' belonging to a Spanish company," the Luxembourg-based court said.

The ruling comes days after it emerged that Messi had overtaken Cristiano Ronaldo as the highest earner in world football, according to France Football magazine.

The Barcelona attacker is making $154 million in salary, bonuses and commercial revenue for the current season while his great Real Madrid rival is making $114 million.

Messi first tried in 2011 to trademark his own name with the EU's intellectual property office for use on "sports and gymnastics clothing, equipment and protective equipment and instruments."

The boss of the Massi cycling goods company filed an appeal the same year, saying there was a "likelihood of confusion" with its own trademark.

The trademark office agreed, and dismissed an appeal by the five-time world footballer of the year in 2014.

'Public figure'

But while judges admitted that the trademarks "are very similar phonetically," they said the IPO was wrong to assume that Messi was only known by people who were interested in football or sport.

"Mr Messi is, in fact, a well-known public figure who can be seen on television and who is regularly discussed on television or on the radio," the court said.

"It seems unlikely that an average consumer of those goods will not directly associate, in the vast majority of cases, the term 'Messi' with the name of the famous football player."

It is not the first time that Messi's business interests have ended up in court.

In 2016 a Spanish court sentenced him to 21 months in jail and fined him more than $2 million for tax evasion, although the prison sentence was later commuted to another fine.

He was found guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying almost $5 million in taxes on income he earned from his image rights.

While Messi's finances go from strength to strength, despite the Spanish case, he is at risk of missing out on a sixth Ballon d'Or this year.

Source: AFP