As the countdown towards the London Olympics enters into its final phase, it’s likely that many businesses will be looking for opportunities to try and cash-in on links with the event.
The Olympic Games is big business, with organisers hoping to raise in excess of £500 million through the sale of various promotional packages around the event. Everything from licensing rights and official partnerships to sponsorship and advertising packages in association with the games and individual events are sold at a premium, and enables the companies that pay to use the words ‘official sponsor’ and access to the associated branding with the games.
In order to prevent any business from trying to capitalise the good will of the London games special legislation was passed in 2006. This laid down strict rules as to how the brand would be policed. Whilst it may be common sense not to replicate the main logo of event or the five Olympic rings, it is perhaps less well known that restrictions were also put in place on the use of specific words, which are classed as ‘listed expressions’.
Under the rules if a company uses any two of the listed expressions which are: Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012, Twenty-Twelve, or just one of these words in conjunction with the words: London, medals, sponsors, summer, gold, silver, bronze, then a breach of copyright will have occurred and games organisers are within their rights to either demand compensation.
To date, the rules have been enforced rigidly. In 2008, the organisers of the London Olympic Games banned students in Brighton from associating a series of talks given by sports personalities, despite the talk being timed to coincide with the Beijing Games. The move set a precedent as to how the brand would be protected in the run up to the event, and one that has continued to be enforced without exception.
One of the latest to fall foul of the rules has been the British Sugarcraft Guild – clearly that regardless of whether your business is a multi-national operation, or a high street bakery, breaching the copyright rules surrounding the use of the Olympic brand will be treated just as seriously. As the starting date draws clearer, only time will how effective the organisers will be in taking actions
The Olympic Games is not alone in trying to protect this very important revenue stream, many businesses choose to register a trademark name in order to prevent rivals from stealing their ideas, or restricting the activities of non-partner organisations.
For example, stealth marketing techniques, similar to the ones used at last year’s World Cup are also being clamped down upon – with fines in excess of £20,000 for companies displaying posters, flyers, certain types of clothing and even sky writing.
The message, not just for the Olympics, but also for any major event is clear… If you want to capitalise upon it, then it is highly likely that to do so legitimately you will need permission from the organisers.
Howard Lock is a patent and trademark attorney and owner of Howard Lock Intellectual Property.
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