The Canadian Olympic Committee (“COC”) has recently sent a cease and desist letter to The North Face, alleging that its clothing and outerwear is in violation of trade-mark law. The COC takes specific issue with the colours, symbols, and flags of several countries being displayed on North Face jackets in association with the text “2.7.14” (the date of the opening ceremonies) and “RU 14”, which, according to the COC implies Russia 2014, the host country of the Olympics.
Trade-mark law plays an important role in the Olympics, protecting the brands, sponsors, and more importantly, the spirit and goodwill of the games. In Canada, the Olympics and Paralympic Marks Act was introduced as Federal legislation prior to the 2010 Olympic Games, to afford additional (and extensive) protection to the trade-marks associated with the Olympic Games held that year in Vancouver, British Columbia. That legislation restricts the use of any Olympic names, logos, or symbols which are used in the games.
In fact, each host country of the Olympic Games, as part of their bid to host the games, must agree to pass legislation which protects the Olympic trade-marks, and host countries and the organizing committees must also agree to protect the sponsorships which bring major financial assistance to the games. Products which aren’t specifically licensed by the organizing committee of that year’s event are monitored and in some cases removed from the area (brand exclusion zones), or, if they must be present, they are covered over. Olympics viewers might notice evidence of this in the Bolshoy hockey arena, where behind the players’ benches are drinks covered in a black label and marked “isotonic energy drink” as opposed to what obviously is some brand-name beverage.
“Can I use the Olympic Rings?” tops the frequently asked questions on the Olympic website. The simple answer is no, and if you do, expect to hear from some gold medal lawyers.
For more information on trade-marks, contact me.