Let the Games begin!

A reminder to businesses about Olympic trade marks and related rights


Almost 5 years ago, following the much-publicised launch of the logo for the London 2012 Olympics, I wrote an article giving an overview of the extensive body of rights asserted and registered by LOCOG, the organising committee of the London Games.

Now, with "Olympic fever" building as the summer nears, and with that same logo now feeling like something of a ubiquitous presence in our lives, I thought it might be worth a reminder of some of the potential pitfalls that businesses may face by trying to exploit some of the "Olympian spirit" in their own commercial ventures.

The Intellectual Property rights in the London Olympics have been said by many commentators to be the most heavily protected of any Olympic Games, and indeed of any sporting event, in history.

Not only are a number of the key Olympic emblems (such as the five rings, the word "OLYMPICS" and permutations of the word, and the motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius") protected by special statutory status, but LOCOG themselves moved incredibly quickly upon being awarded the right to host the Games to register a wide range of trade marks in the UK and internationally, including LOCOG, LONDON 2012 and of course the logo and those curious cycloptic mascots, "Wenlock and Mandeville."

In addition, LOCOG was successful in having special-purpose legislation enacted through Parliament in the form of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 which supplements the existing protection given by the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995 by creating the new "London Olympics Association Right" (LOAR) which goes beyond the traditional rights extended to brand owners by defining two lists of protected expressions which, if used together in a commercial context, may constitute an infringement of LOAR.

"List A" includes words and expressions such as "Games" , "2012" and "Twenty-Twelve" while "List B" includes words and phrases like "Medals", "Gold/Silver/Bronze" , "Sponsor" and "London".

Of course, existing laws on pre-established trade marks would still allow, for example, a car dealership which had been trading as "Olympic Motors" since 1986 to continue to do so, but it would be likely to constitute an infringement if that business used the "buzz" surrounding this Olympic year to expand into new areas of business in which it had not previously used the name.

The marks can also be used in a journalistic or reporting context and "in accordance with honest business practices" when used to refer factually to the Games themselves. However, if a business were to run an unauthorised "Olympics-based" marketing programme and seek to take advantage of any of the marks protected and policed by LOCOG such as "Come to our bar / restaurant for full HD coverage of the London 2012 Games" or "We are supporters of London 2012" then it`s possible that they would be laying themselves open to enforcement action by LOCOG.

Of course, one of the hottest subjects that LOCOG will be cracking down on will be any attempt at "Ambush Marketing" - such as a business arranging to have a number of employees or paid "stooges" positioned prominently in a stadium wearing branded clothing. You may well remember the controversy over the small army of young ladies in bright orange dresses whom FIFA accused of being "ambush marketers" for a Dutch beer brand and evicted from the Holland v Denmark match at the last World Cup in South Africa. Rest assured that LOCOG`s beady eye will be on the lookout for any similar pranks this summer.

"Official" Olympic sponsorship and affiliation is, of course, incredibly expensive and is therefore jealously guarded by the governing bodies and rights-holders. A business planning to incorporate any Olympics-related imagery or words into their commercial activities this summer would be wise to seek advice before doing so, or risk a potentially costly claim.

Posted on: 03/04/2012

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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