Pelé, the King of Trademarks

Still mourning for the passing of the greatest football player of all time, at the age of 82, the media recalled Pelé’s achievements and records in the sport. That’s fair, especially because his career is staggering. Pelé scored 1282 goals in an era when far less matches were played; he won three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970), two Libertadores Cups (1962 and 1963) and two Clubs World Cup (1962 and 1963). The King was elected by FIFA as the greatest player of the 20th century and the Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), even though he never played in the Olympics. If that was not enough of a resumé, Pelé was appointed as one of the 100 most influential personalities of the last century by Time Magazine.

Pelé’s success inside the pitch is undisputed, but he also shone outside the stadiums, being an advertising idol long before sports marketing became what it is today. Edson Arantes do Nascimento was able to profit more with the “Pelé” trademark in the advertising market than with awards and sports wages. It must be emphasized that Pelé’s prime was in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, when globalization was very shy and social media was unconceivable.

In an exercise of stipulation, Forbes magazine calculated that had Pelé played in today’s era, his trade value would be worth US$ 223 million – almost two times Messi’s value. But even having his peak in an era in which athletes were not necessarily celebrities neither made fortunes, analysts and experts calculated that the Pelé trademark was worth BRL 600 million in 2010. In current values, that would be equivalent to BRL 1.6 billion (around US$ 300 M).

Pelé went global before globalization was a thing. He’s likely to be the first global athlete/celebrity, leading the path to Michael Jordan, Ali, Serena Williams, and other members of sports’ royalty. Especially after playing in the NY Cosmos, Pelé became a worldwide well-required poster boy, printing his name in advertising campaigns and memorabilia of all kinds, including airline companies, credit card companies, erectile dysfunction medicine, video games, cell phones, beverages, and many others. However, the King never wanted to have his name and brand associated with alcohol and cigar. But even before leaving Brazil, Pelé was a global advertiser. In the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, Pelé frequently bent down to tie his boots – an act he later confirmed to be destined to raise attention to his sponsor at the time. Any resemblance to today’s players is no coincidence – as with most things in Football, Pelé lead the way.

Pelé put Brazil on the map and his brand/name became of high intangible value. His hand-signature is registered as a trademark in multiple countries and other symbols associated with him have become icons in the collective unconscious. That’s the case with the mythical number 10 jersey that he worn during his career both in the Brazilian National Team and in Santos; and with the iconic celebration of punching the air after scoring a goal. Pelé is also the origin of the Portuguese expression “plaque goal”, which designates an aesthetically pleasing goal. In 1961, during the match Fluminense 1 x 3 Santos, Pelé scored two goals and one of them was memorable. To eternalize this achievement, journalist Joelmir Beting paid from his own pockets the making of a bronze plaque with the words: “In this field, on March 5, 1961, Pelé scored the most beautiful goal in the history of Maracanã”. That’s the origin of expression “Plate Goal “, referring to a goal worthy of plastic beauty. Interestingly, there is no visual record of this goal, and it was recreated on a computer for the documentary “Pelé Eterno”.

The power of a trademark is not only measured in monetary but also in humanitarian value. In addition to encouraging people to strive to achieve the same results and influencing people to emulate their actions, strategies, and businesses, attraction power, currently known as “soft power”, a trademark is able to stop wars. It was this effect that Pelé achieved in 1969, on a Santos excursion to Nigeria. The African country lived through the conflict known as the Biafra War, which lasted from 1967 to 1970 causing the death of millions of people. For Santos to arrive safely at Beni City Stadium, it took a ceasefire. The conflict was interrupted so that people could see King Pelé play. Coincidence or not, Pelé became a citizen of the world, a prize he received from the United Nations in 1977.

Citizen and trademark of the world. Since 2009, all rights to use “Pelé” belong to the American company Sports 10. In Brazil, Pelé’s intellectual property rights are exploited by IP Ownership LLC (which has 46 active cases in the BPTO, Brazilian Patent and Trademark Office) and Jacobs Douwe Egberts BR Marketing of Cafés Ltda (which has 15 active cases in BPTO).

Edson Arantes do Nascimento died at the age of 82, but the trademark Pelé remains alive. Regarding trademark law, the Federal Constitution of 1988, in its art. 5, nineteenth, provides in verbis that “the law will ensure the authors of industrial inventions temporary privilege for its use, as well as protection to industrial creations, ownership of brands, companies and other distinctive signs, given the interest and the technological and economic development of the country “.

In the Brazilian legislation, the term “property” refers to trademarks, which is, in sum, an intellectual good that may have perpetual protection, provided the administrative formalities are complied with at BPTO, such as the continuous use in the market without substantial modification and the payment of the 10-year fees.

In addition to all his contributions to the sports and business world, Pelé has never abandoned another passion: art. As an actor, the king of soccer starred in several soap operas and movies, even in Hollywood, when he acted with Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and Bobby Moore in “Escape to Victory”, 1981. As a musician, according to the Central Office of Collection and Distribution (ECAD in Portuguese), the athlete had 34 musical works and 15 properly registered recordings. Also, according to ECAD, Pelé “had more than 85% of his copyright income from radio and TV segments.” With his death, copyrights in and to his songs were transmitted to his heirs until his work falls into the public domain in 2093.

We miss the star Pelé and hope that his example and name remain synonymous with excellence.

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