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Golden Balls couple take trademark dispute with FIFA Ballon d'Or to EU court

PUBLISHED: 07:55 02 May 2013 | UPDATED: 21:41 02 May 2013

Inez and Gus Bodur with Golden Balls products in 2009 outside the West Hampstead store they were forced to close. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Inez and Gus Bodur with Golden Balls products in 2009 outside the West Hampstead store they were forced to close. Picture: Polly Hancock.

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A couple locked in a five-year legal battle with the organisers of one of the world's most prestigious football awards have taken their fight to use the trademark Golden Balls to Europe's highest court.

Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or four times. Picture: PA/Mike Egerton.Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or four times. Picture: PA/Mike Egerton.

Inez and Gus Bodur, who run sportswear brand Golden Balls, have spent the last five years defending the company’s trademark after the FIFA Ballon d’Or – a globally-recognised football award given to the planet’s best footballers – claimed Golden Balls infringed their copyright.

On Tuesday, the couple, both aged 49, flew to Luxembourg for a hearing at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Mr Bodur, who was forced to close the Golden Balls store in West End Lane, West Hampstead, in 2010 because of the costs of fighting the case, said: “The bottom line is that Ballon d’Or translates as ball of gold or balloon of gold – that is a direct translation. Golden Balls is plural and there is no similarity. There is absolutely no confusion to be made.”

The Bodurs, who live off Hendon Way, in Cricklewood, with their two children, obtained the trademark Golden Balls in 2001 and have sold sportswear using the brand ever since.

Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a Golden Balls t-shirt in 2002.Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a Golden Balls t-shirt in 2002.

Golden Balls clothing quickly took off and in 2002 film star Gwyneth Paltrow was spotted in Covent Garden wearing one of the brand’s T-shirts.

After Victoria Beckham’s revelation that her nickname for husband David was “Golden Balls”, the Bodurs were quick to get in contact with the Beckhams.

“Gus’s initials are GB and I also used to call him Golden Balls. It was just a joke between us and that was where the company name came from,” said Mrs Bodur.

“We wrote to the Beckhams ages ago when it was revealed that it was David’s nickname and we have never had any legal issues with them.”

But in 2007 the couple were contacted by representatives of Ballon d’Or, an annual award given to one player considered the best in the world in the previous season, accusing them of infringing the award’s copyright and demanding they abandon Golden Balls altogether.

Ballon d’Or was set up by French press group Intra Presse in 1956, which also runs the Tour de France, and merged with football’s international governing body FIFA in 2010.

In the past, the award has been given to British footballing greats such as Stanley Matthews, George Best and Bobby Charlton. For the last four years, it has been won by Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

Fighting the case has cost the Bodurs around £100,000, which they have funded from a 2007 deal to licence their brand to entertainment company Endemol for the Golden Balls game show hosted by Jasper Carrott.

They won their original case against Ballon d’Or in OHIM, the European Union (EU) trademark disputes court, in 2010.

But after a subsequent appeal OHIM handed Ballon d’Or trademark rights for a number of sectors in Europe, including television rights.

In light of this decision, the Bodurs lodged an appeal case at the Court of Justice of the European Union. “We weren’t going to walk away and be bullied just because they have more money than us,” said Mrs Bodur.

“If we do win this I would like to see the laws changed so that if small businesses are being bullied by large corporations they can get help with legal aid.”

The couple expect a decision to be made by the court in July.

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