Protection of the Olympic Brand — marketers beware
With the London 2012 Olympic Games fast approaching advertisers and marketers must be careful how they associate themselves with the Olympics and the Olympic brand.
The success of an Olympic Games is not only measured by athletic achievements on the track or in the gymnasium. The economic success of the Games has a substantial impact on a host city’s Olympic legacy. Economic success is assessed by the host city’s ability to maximize income generated from corporate sponsorship, media rights, tourism and ticket sales. Protecting the Olympic brand is a key feature of any Games’ commercial success. Olympic brand protection finds its basis in the Olympic Charter. Historically, the Olympic movement has zealously protected the use and licensing of the Olympic Brand.
Global brand protection framework
It is incumbent upon the host country to manage domestic sponsorship, ticketing and licensing programs under the direction of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC ensures that host countries comply with specific guidelines regarding intellectual property protection. For this reason, similar Olympics laws have been drafted in several countries prior to hosting the Games. The implementation of these laws ensures that the profit generated from use of the Olympic brand stays inside the Olympic “family”. Also, protecting and enforcing the intellectual property is essential to ensure that the Olympic Games remains a viable financial reality, with huge money coming from the select few corporate sponsorships.
All of the official names, phrases, marks, logos are designs associated with the London 2012 Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Movements are protected by laws in the United Kingdom. Particular to these games are the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic emblems, the London 2012 mascots, the words “London 2012”. The www.london2012.com website claims that the London Organising Committee must carefully manage how the Games’ marks are used and what the London 2012 brand stands for. It states:
“We have a more immediate need and obligation to protect and maintain the current commercial value of the London 2012 brand. The hundreds of millions of pounds necessary to organise and stage the Games is being raised by the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) from the private sector. In return for investing in the Games, we have promised our sponsors and merchandise licensees exclusive rights to use the London 2012 brand and to associate it with the Games.”
Australia did the same for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The Olympic Insignia Protection Act 1987 provides that the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) is the national owner of the Olympic rings symbol, the Olympic motto. The AOC also owns various registered Olympic designs and a number of torch and flame designs. The Act also protects the use of the word “Olympic”, “Olympiad” and their plurals and “Olympic Games” in advertising and promotion. The AOC and the IOC are also the registered trade mark owners of scores of word and device marks associated with the Olympics. To use these protected Olympic expressions, design or marks a licence is required from the AOC or IOC.
The result of the restrictions placed on the use of the brand is that many businesses attempt to associate themselves with the Olympics to gain the benefit of that association without the legislative authorisation or licence to do so. Some businesses engage in ambush marketing where the business seeks to associate itself with the marketing of a particular event without the authority from the organisers of the event. Ambush marketing has become a common part of the corporate sponsorship landscape and the Olympics are a prime target for marketers and advertisers.
During the time Michael Payne was a key marketing figure in the IOC he commented that ambush marketing:
“has become an irritating fact of life for sports organisations that seek to protect the integrity of the sponsorship programs upon which many of these organisations depend. No organisation is more directly affected by the trend than Olympic Games organisers, who are striving to protect the rights of official Olympic sponsors against … marketers who seek to leverage the goodwill and worldwide reputation of the Olympic Movement at the expense of official sponsors.” 
The challenge for marketers is to advertise their products in a creative way. Whether particular conduct is infringing needs is to be determined on a case by case basis. The extent to which particular phrases, and symbols are “sewn up” for use by official Olympics sponsors is an controversial balance.
 Michael Payne, “Ambush Marketing: The Undeserved Advantage”, (1998) 15(4) Psychology and Marketing 323 at 326.
If your business has a marketing idea and needs to understand any intellectual property limitations that may impact upon it, please contact Swaab Attorneys.