2012 is really an enjoyable summer for sport enthusiasts. EURO 2012 has just finished and the exiting Olympic Games in London will start on 27 July 2012. All keen sport fans of the world, as well as the Olympic Flame are getting closer to London. According to an article in the Daily Mail, the sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonalds and their future sponsorship have recently been discussed since Olympics officials have brought up health and obesity concerns. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is indeed aware of its brand value, which of course is crucial for all companies to be aware of, even if it can be tempting to try to get associated with the positive spirit of the Olympic Games.
Even if your company is not eager to become a sponsor of the Olympic Games, it is important to be aware of th efact that IOC is the exclusive owner of all rights in and to the Olympic Games and in particular the intellectual property rights associated thereto. These have the potential to generate revenues, as specified in the Olympic Charter. For example, these rights include the Olympic symbol, flag, motto, anthem, identifications, including “Olympic Games” and “Games of the Olympiad”, designations, emblems, flame and torches. The exclusive rights of IOC include the use for any profit-making, commercial or advertising purposes and licensing of all or part of its rights on terms and conditions set forth by the IOC Executive Board.
Each National Olympic Committee has the task to inform about the intellectual property rights of the IOC. The mission of the 204 National Olympic Committees is to develop, promote and protect Olympism in their respective countries, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. For example, the Swedish Olympic Committee has distributed a brochure containing information about the main principles of the Olympic Charter including guidelines for companies and the participants of the Olympic Games. For instance, companies who are sponsoring a certain group or individual participants during the Olympic Games must observe that this does not include the right to use the Olympic symbol, or expressions such as “London 2012” or similar.
Furthermore, the IOC is the holder of a large number of trademarks connected to the Olympic Games, such as OLYMPIAD (figurative), OLYMPIC GAMES (figurative), OLYMPIC (figurative), SUMMER GAMES, WINTER GAMES, YOUTH GAMES, LONDON (figurative), LONDON 2012 etc. Many of these trademarks are protected for more or less all available goods and services, for example the trademark LONDON 2012. The scope of protection is very wide indeed. Additionally, it is interesting to note that RIO 2016 is already registered as a trademark. TOKYO 2016, MADRID 2016 and CHICAGO 2016 were also filed as trademarks, but now seem to have been surrendered.
Through the above mentioned IP rights of the IOC, the National Olympic Committees have the power to act against anyone that is using the said trademark or confusingly similar trademarks. Moreover, in many cases it is probably also possible for the IOC to argue copyright infringement or a violation of rules on marketing and unfair competition, at least in many jurisdictions. The risk of not respecting the above mentioned IP rights of the IOC is to end up in tough negotiations or even litigation, with legal costs and “bad” publicity etc, with the IOC or any of the National Olympic Committees.
In Sweden there was a number of trademark infringement cases (over 30 cases) regarding the Olympic Games that caused media attention during 2006, which for instance involved a pizza restaurant that sold pizzas under the name “OS-pizza” (“OS” stands for Olympiska Spelen i.e. the Olympic Games in Swedish). The Swedish National Olympic Committee claimed damages and compensation from the pizza restaurant for the use of the trademark of IOC. However, the pizza restaurant was not willing to pay. In the end, the Swedish National Olympic Committee abandoned its claims against four small companies as long as they promised to respect their trademark rights in the future. However, the claims against the remaining larger companies were maintained according to the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
The symbols and trademarks of the Olympic Games are important to respect for all companies and all others who do business. Indeed the IOC has taken a quite tough approach in terms of defending their trademark rights and their other IP rights and in the end, their brand value. One could maybe have some thoughts about the quite wide scope of protection of the trademarks. However, one can also see the tough approach as an inspiration on how to invest in trademarks and how to build their brand value.