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Emily D. Swoboda

Monopoly Debate Heads for Swedish Market Court

13 May 2008

Svenska Spel, the Swedish gaming monopoly, has filed a lawsuit against Ladbrokes Scandinavia for trademark infringement -- and Ladbrokes is looking forward to its day in court.

Ladbrokes on May 1 began running a TV spot in Sweden, wherein an actor runs wildly around a warehouse extolling -- in Swedish and English -- the virtues of Ladbrokes' products.

While doing so, the actor utters "Svenska spel, Engleska odds," a phrase which translates to "Swedish games, English odds." The actor then cuts what resembles the shape of the Svenska Spel logo out of a piece of red paper and holds it up to the camera.

Ladbrokes has since re-edited the commercial, removing any alleged reference to Svenska Spel's logo, but Svenska Spel claims Ladbrokes' use of their name violates the Swedish Marketing Act and filed a complaint against the bookmaker on Wednesday with the Swedish Market Court.

Ladbrokes, on the other hand, argues that Svenska Spel cannot hold a monopoly over the Swedish language and maintains that it used the words -- "Svenska spel" -- in the language-context only.

Lasse Dilschmann, chief executive of Ladbrokes Scandinavia, explained to Interactive Gaming News that the commercial had two purposes: to present the Swedish gambling consumers with other options, and to bring the debate over the politics of gambling in Sweden to the fore.

"In the gaming monopoly market, people are not aware that there are options and people are not aware of what they are buying today," he said.

Mr. Dilschmann said Ladbrokes welcomes the chance to take Sweden's monopoly to task because the company has for several years tried to open a dialogue on the subject.

"[Svenska Spel] bringing a complaint against us is the best possible thing we can see because it provides us with an arena to actually take this debate to, and [the debate] will last for quite some time," he said.

Andreas Jansson, director of communications for Svenska Spel, said in a prepared statement on Thursday that the company also welcomes a debate over the regulation of gambling in Sweden, but said his company could address it without committing "flagrant trademark violations."

Anders Kylhammar, an intellectual property attorney and partner at Sandart & Partners in Stockholm, told IGN he does not think the court will let the monopoly issue decide this case.

The Market Court addresses unfair marketing practices and competition law, and thus will look to the market situation -- what the ad looks like and what kind of protection Svenska Spel deserves, for example -- in making its decision, said Mr. Kylhammar, who is not involved with the case.

He explained that since Svenska Spel has filed suit under the Marketing Act, the company will likely rely on two sections of the act to make its case. The first, Section 8a, gives protection to well-known trade names or trademarks if the court finds the other party -- Ladbrokes -- uses its -- Svenska Spel's -- reputation. And the second, Section 6, deals with misleading advertising.

Under Section 6, however, Mr. Kylhammar said there is no requirement that the trademark or trade name be well known.

"I think that the court will find that the name, 'Svenska Spel,' is a well-known trade name," he said.

Mr. Kylhammar added the Market Court is the highest court of its kind -- its decisions cannot be appealed.

Meanwhile, Svenska Spel has asked for an interlocutory injunction against Ladbrokes, which, if granted, would stop the company from airing the commercial for the duration of the trial.

However, Mr. Dilschmann has already acknowledged that this issue is bigger than an intellectual property case.

"The most important thing is not whether they or we win the debate on a particular commercial advertising," he said. "This is in fact a debate on whether the current monopoly is favorable to the country or not."

Svenska Spel could not be reached for comment.

Monopoly Debate Heads for Swedish Market Court is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda