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IP Cases & Commentary – Details

1 March 2012

On Your Marks...Trade Marks and the London 2012 Olympic Games - A Brief Guide to Branding Regulations

With a little over four months to go before the Games open in London we thought that a quick run through the do’s and don’ts of the regulations protecting the signs associated with the Olympic Games might be useful.

The original emblem of the modern Olympic movement – the well-known symbol composed of five interlocking rings coloured blue, yellow, black, green and red on a white field – was designed in 1914 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They represented the five regions of the world which, at the time, supported the Olympic goals and ideals – the education of youth through sport practiced without discrimination, in the spirit of mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Today, the emblem continues to preserve the idea that the Olympic movement is international and welcomes all countries of the world to join. It represents the meeting of athletes from all over the world and stands for values such as passion, faith, commitment and sportsmanship.

This symbol carries an enormous amount of goodwill and is one of the most, if not the most, well recognised symbols in the world.

Interestingly, whilst the Olympic movement grew over the course of the 20th century, it would seem as if it was not until the ‘70s that registered trade mark protection for the Olympic emblem was first sought.

However, over the last four decades protection for hundreds of trade marks has been obtained by the IOC, or the National Organising Committees of the Olympic Games (NOCOGs). These have included the names of cities bidding to host the Games and the numerals representing the years in which those games are to be held. Their current strategy includes seeking protection for some marks in all 45 classes of the International Classification system.

Branding is, understandably, critical to the financial security and stability of the Olympic Movement, as it forms the foundation of the Olympic marketing programme. The Olympic Games do not allow any visible commercial branding to appear on the field of play. This includes on athletes and their equipment, so that the emphasis is placed on sport. This also strengthens the value of the Olympic brand.

Approximately 92 per cent of the revenue generated from the marketing of Olympic intellectual property is distributed among the national organizing committees. A certain amount is shared between the two host cities of the summer and winter Olympic Games and the rest is distributed among the other countries to promote the development of sport and training of Olympic athletes.

Since it was founded in 1894, the Olympic movement has depended on its partnership with the business community to finance the games and support the athletes around the world.

Most of the funding for the Olympic Games today is raised from the sale of rights bought by broadcast networks (53 per cent). The remainder is raised from the Olympic Partners (TOP) world-wide programme comprising multinational companies (16 per cent), domestic sponsorship (19 per cent), ticket sales (10 per cent) and licensing revenue (2 per cent).

The figures given above are the approximate proportion from each source generated for the Salt Lake City/Athens Olympics (2002/2004).

If the IOC and NOCOGs are not diligent about maintaining exclusivity for their sponsors they will be unable to attract the necessary investment. Uncontrolled use of their brands could also, of course, damage their goodwill and reputation, resulting in loss of prestige.

In the UK, in addition to the usual trade mark, copyright, design and common law rights associated with the protection of brands, there are two laws specifically enacted to protect the official emblems of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

These are the Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act 1995 (commonly known as OSPA) and the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (referred to as ‘the 2006 Act’).

The OSPA prevents the use in the course of trade of any Olympic symbols, mottos or words and the 2006 Act essentially gives the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), the exclusive right to grant its sponsors and licensees authorisation to create an association between their business and the London 2012 Olympics. It also gives LOCOG the right to prevent people creating such an association without authorisation.

There are certain words and ‘listed expressions’ that are protected by the two special Olympic Acts mentioned above.

In OSPA these are:

  • Olympic
  • Olympian
  • Olympiad
  • Paralympic
  • Paralympian
  • Paralympiad
  • PLUS their plurals, translations or anything similar to them (eg, Olympix, etc)

The listed expressions given in the 2006 Act are any two of the words in list A below, or any word in list A with one or more words in list B below:

List A

  • Games
  • Two Thousand and Twelve
  • 2012
  • Twenty-Twelve

List B

  • London
  • Medals
  • Sponsors
  • Summer
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Bronze

The courts may take any such use into account when they are determining if an association with London 2012 has been created. However, you should be aware that these lists are intended only as a guide and are not the only thing that the courts will look at when making a decision.

It is possible for an association to be created even if none of the words or listed expressions are used. ANY word, image or sign, or any combination of these, such as use of athletic images, representations of a torch or flame, use of the Olympic colours, or anything else that evokes the spirit of the games is likely to fall foul of the regulations. Similarly it is possible to use the words in a way that creates no association.

The general rule is that you should make no reference to the Olympic Games in your marketing materials unless you are an official sponsor. By all means promote your business actively during the Olympic Games but not in a manner, or context, that would lead to a link being made by the public between you and the Olympics.

LOCOG will take action against businesses creating an association between themselves and the Games. They will also take action to prevent the sale of counterfeit and unofficial goods.

The official website provides helpful guidelines for commercial and non-commercial organizations and is a good first port of call, if you have any queries or wish to find out more.

Useful links

London 2012 Olympic Games Official Website
History of the Olympic Movement and past Olympic Games

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