In less than two decades the practice known as ambush
marketing has resulted in a major threat to IP rights. All events, be it
entertainment or sports, followed by a significant audience have to cope with
those smart guys, not willing to afford costly financial involvement as
sponsors, but keen on benefiting from the event's resonance. Small companies
and start ups as well as big players have been trying the free foot board ride
on the showcase vehicle of events implying global brand exposure.
Those tricks obviously led to clashes with the
events' organizers and official sponsors, determined in fiercely defending
their investments. During the years the conflict between opposite interests has
increasingly heated up and, when traditional legal action, as trademark and
copyright protection or claims for unfair competition practices, fell afoul of
granting sufficient results, a call for stricter measures arouse. Therefore all
major sports events are nowadays backed by specific provisions and strong
sanctions, aimed at closing the system's previous loopholes and at assuring
special rights to the official sponsors.
The specific laws usually provide protection for the
events' logos and their derivatives and ban wording implying undue association
with the event; sometimes they contain explicit reference to ambush
marketing as an illicit practice when resulting in not authorized
activities performed for profit in parallel to those properly licensed. The
Organizing Committees of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, Vancouver and London have already begun – years ahead of their events' start – to prepare
for efficiently fighting ambush marketing. Since Beijing was selected as
the Host City for the 2008 Games, the Chinese Government passed a special
Regulation (which came into effect in April 2002) for protecting the Olympic
symbol; the Municipality of Beijing issued additional provisions for the same
Canada protects the symbols of the Vancouver Games as well as a comprehensive
list of specific marks and delivers detailed information on banned ambush
marketing and sponsors' brand protection on the VANOC's official website.
The Organizing Committee is also seeking special legislation from the federal
government in order to increase IP protection.
The London Olympic Games Act 2006 received royal
assent in March 2006 and protects, aside of the traditional symbols, also
definitions referring to or implying association with the games; it sanctions
infringement as a criminal offence and provides fines as well as personal
Nevertheless, once a new rule is set, somebody
always finds a way to go around it. Recent sports events have been targeted by
the smart guys as always and in some cases they again succeeded in going away
with their tricks.
During the recent Soccer WC in Germany strong
efforts were made and extensive controls were performed in order to prevent
malpractice on official sponsors' rights. Action was taken on more than 2.500
infringements, but German national air carrier Lufthansa – not an official
sponsor - succeed in associating the company's brand to the Soccer WC by
depicting 40 of its planes with a football nose.
With respect to the same event a
retail store in Bangkok was noticed promoting a local chips brand featuring
German sausages and a football on the packaging, while the Swiss Tourism Board
tried to attract the so-called “Soccer Widows” to Switzerland - while their
male partners indulged in soccer madness - through a seducing invitation: “Dear
girls. Why not escape during the summer’s World Cup to a country where men
spend less time on football and more time on you?”
During the 2006 Winter Olympics brand police taped
almost every logo not referring to an official sponsors, but a big US company
resulted successful in associating itself with the Games by closing a deal with
Italian Railway – month ahead of the event – which involved wrapping the trains
bringing fans to the sports venues into its corporate logo.
The Organizing Committee, even fuming about the
smart move, decided to not take action as the perspective for a success in
court didn’t appear very high.
So, despite strong opposition from event organizers
and sponsors, ambushers never fall short of new ideas allowing them to
successfully weasel around their attractive preys.
*Felix Hofer is a senior partner of Hofer Loesch
Torricelli, a law firm based in Firenze (Italy); he advises on IP rights, advertising
and marketing law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
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