Business Law & Compliance

IP and the Olympics: Don’t fall at the first hurdle

5 min read

18 July 2016

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games is almost upon us! 5 August will see the iconic Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro become the focal point of the world when it plays host to the opening ceremony of arguably the biggest spectacle in the sporting calendar.

Over the course of 19 days, athletes from 206 countries will compete across 306 events against the scenic backdrop of Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana Beach, Maracanã and Deodoro. 

Whilst the vast majority of the global interest will be directed towards the competition taking place within the various stadia and arenas, Rio 2016 will inevitably give rise to a multitude of other battles as the IOC, the various National Olympic Committees and the Olympic “partners”, “sponsors”, “supporters” and “suppliers” seek to prevent unauthorised third parties from using any of the protected IP rights. Businesses here in the UK should take note to avoid falling foul of specific laws around the Olympics, inadvertently or otherwise.

It is estimated that 3.6bn viewers (76 per cent of the potential global audience) watched some part of London 2012 so it is unsurprising why the Olympics is such an attractive platform for sponsors to advertise and market their brand. Providing access to this this diverse, populous and global demographic is a significant revenue generator for the organiser, the IOC and the National Olympic Committees with the various commercial partnerships accounting for 40 per cent of Olympic revenues. 

Read more about protecting your intellectual property:

Host cities are under an obligation to implement further civil and criminal measures to prevent unauthorised use of the various words, symbols and logos associated with the Olympics as a precondition for hosting the event. The additional statutory measures provide stakeholders with an increased level of protection and the exclusive right to use the designated words, mottos, logos and symbols. This increased level of security and exclusivity makes becoming a “partner”, “sponsor”, “supporter” or “supplier” a much more attractive and valuable commodity. 

The right to prevent unauthorised use of a word, logo or symbol in the UK is usually enforced through trademark law and the common law tort of passing off. There is also potentially legal recourse available for the unauthorised use of images and logos through design and copyright law. Whilst the conventional mechanisms for enforcement still apply, the protected words, mottos, logos and symbols relating to the Olympics are also protected by the considerably broader “Association Right”. 

The Association Right confers on the British Olympic Association the right to bring infringement proceedings against any third parties who use the protected words, mottos, logos and symbols in the course of trade without authorisation. The protected matter includes a graphic representation of the Olympic symbol, the Olympic motto (“Citius, altius, fortius”) or a protected word such as “Olympiad”, “Olympiads”, “Olympian”, “Olympians”, “Olympic” and “Olympics”. 

The right is also infringed where third parties use a representation of something similar to the Olympic symbol, Olympic motto or protected word which is likely to make the public ‘associate’ the sign with the Olympic games or the Olympic movement. This is an extremely broad provision which is capable of catching almost any commercial activity which suggests some link to the Olympics or Olympic movement. Businesses need to be extremely careful as all the same relief available for infringement of a property right is available for the infringement of the association right including damages or an account of profits, injunctions, delivery up, erasure of the representation or destruction of the of the infringing goods.

Jason Chester is a trainee trademark attorney at Marks & Clerk.

Most businesses know that intellectual property is important but many, especially SMEs are not really sure how to make the most of it. We talked to several experts to find out why SMEs should be making it a priority.

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