Keep Off the Olympic Grass

Businesses are advised to think carefully before trying to profit from the Olympics as the majority of words and images associated with it are protected trademarks

With 2012 just a year away, it is tempting for businesses to try to profit from the huge public interest in and support of the Olympics by selling T-shirts and other goods with graphics alluding to the Olympics.

Businesses should be aware, however, that anything alluding to the 2012 Olympics is strictly forbidden, even words/graphics that have not been protected as trademarks by the Olympic guardians. The powers given to the guardians are wide ranging and the penalties for selling such goods is huge. Businesses should be aware of what to avoid in the run up to the Olympics.

In order to protect the sponsors’ investment in the Games, and to give them exclusive association with the Games, for which they pay, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has been given the job of ensuring that only bona fide sponsors of the Games should produce and sell memorabilia commemorating the Games.

This is to ensure that the funding of British athletes is not put at risk. Special laws have been passed to enable it to do just that.

The Olympic Symbol etc. Protection Act 1995 (OSPA) safeguards the most famous image used by all hosting countries, consisting of five interlocking rings representing the union of the continents and meeting of athletes throughout the world. Another image protected under OSPA is that of the Paralympic symbol – three “agitos” said to represent the passion, inspiration and excitement of the Paralympic Games. In addition to these images, the words ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympian’, ‘Olympiad’, ‘Paralympic’, ‘Paralympian’ and ‘Paralympiad’ are protected by the Act.

Any business using these protected symbols and/or words on merchandise or within advertisements without authorisation are likely to pay heavy penalties such as an injunction to prevent further unauthorised use, being sued for damages, or having to give up their associated profits.

In addition to the images protected by OSPA a number of marks are protected trademarks and/or designs. These are known as the “Protected Games Marks”. These include the various London 2012 logos.

Use of these marks is strictly forbidden in any colour combination for anybody other than sponsors, official broadcasters, official merchandise licensees and licensed non-commercial partners.

As well as the above, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 grants LOCOG the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR). This allows LOCOG to prevent people, without its authority, from creating an association between a business, goods or services, and the London 2012 Olympic Games and/or Paralympic Games.

This means that any words or images alluding to the games are strictly forbidden on goods or within advertisements – and not necessarily just those protected as trademarks or under OSPA. For example this would mean that it is strictly forbidden for a business to sell merchandise that alludes to the Games by showing the Olympic rings, people running with torches, the year 2012, or the words ‘London 2012’.

It is worth seeking advice before contemplating manufacturing or selling goods containing any word or graphic that could allude to the Olympic Games. Don’t take a chance: contact the professionals for sound advice before launching a product or advertising your business.

Written by Debra Hiddleston

Debra Hiddleston (pictured) is a Trademark Lawyer at ip21, based in London and Norwich and prides itself on providing clear and commercially relevant advice of the highest quality. Its aim is to ensure its clients make well-informed, strategic decisions so the client can achieve its main goal of developing a franchise operation to its full potential.