The issue is over the use of the word “Inter”, which the Italian club filed a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The club stated that it is synonymous with Inter Milan, whose full official name is FC Internazionale Milano.
Inter Miami, co-owned by David Beckham, finished 10th in its debut season in the MLS Eastern Conference in 2020.
In 2018, MLS applied for its own trademark for the name Inter Miami CF with the USPTO, and subsequently filed an opposition to Inter Milan’s trademark efforts in 2019. Because MLS is structured as a “single entity” and not a league with franchises, it was the league that filed the objection on behalf of Inter Miami.
In MLS’s filing, it stated that Inter Milan’s application should be refused because the term “Inter” is merely descriptive. It also argued that allowing Milan’s use of the term would result in a “likelihood of confusion” in the marketplace.
Miami’s “likelihood of confusion” argument was twice rejected by the USPTO on the grounds that MLS has no existing rights to the word “Inter”, with the most recent ruling taking place on Dec. 9, 2020. That decision has led to concern that Inter Miami may have to change its name.
In statement to ESPN, Inter Miami said that, “The trademark dispute between Major League Soccer and Inter Milan focuses on whether Inter Milan can claim an exclusive trademark ownership of, and the right to use, the commonly used term ‘Inter’ standing alone in commercial activity.”
The statement continued: “The litigation does not concern the brand name or brand marks for Inter Miami CF, whose formal franchise name is Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami. The Club is not in jeopardy of changing its trademark-approved name or marks.”
There is also the possibility that a settlement over the “Inter” topic could be negotiated over the dispute.
South Florida business attorney David Winker said that while Inter Miami’s statement is technically true, if Inter Milan is successful in its effort to trademark “Inter”, there could be additional legal battles in the future.
“If Inter Milan is ultimately victorious, the next step would likely be Inter Milan bringing an action against Inter Miami to stop using the name ‘Inter’ in its name,” he said via email. “And Inter Milan would likely be successful in such an action. In layman’s terms, Apple is a fruit but it has become associated with Apple, Inc. a technology company, but Apple can stop me from opening a computer store called “Apple Miami.”
Winker has previously sued Inter Miami to overturn a stadium referendum in Miami, as well as to stop demolition on a stadium project in Ft. Lauderdale. The former lawsuit was dismissed while the latter was defeated in court.