Like any red-blooded American sports fan, the realization that
both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics are only a few weeks
away makes my thoughts turn to only one thing.
Both of these iconic events have famous trademarks with
extensive legal protection – and owners who take their rights
very, very seriously.
The National Football League owns trademark rights, not only in
its own name and logo, and in the names and logos of all 32 member
teams, but also in the word SUPER BOWL and related logos.
The league has been known to take a dim view of people
using its registered marks without permission.
Not that people haven't tried, of course. Applications to
register all of the following have been filed in the Trademark
Office, and all have failed:
Super Bowl of Motocross
Super Bowl of Poker
Sooper Bowl of Comedy
Super Bowl of Portable Restrooms (I swear I
didn't make that up).
There are others. And those are only the ones that someone
applied to register. Imagine how many there must be that
weren't applied for.
But the strength of the NFL's rights pale in
comparison with those of the people who run the Olympics,
whose marks are protected not by the usual trademark laws but by
their very own statutes, whose liability standards and potential
penalties are especially stringent.
Here in the U.S., the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports
Act, 36 U.S.C. § 220501 et seq., gives the United
States Olympic Committee exclusive control over the following
symbols, terms, and phrases, among others:
The Olympic symbol (five interlocking rings
representing the five continents)
The statute permits the USOC to sue anyone who, without
permission, uses the Olympic trademarks to market goods or
services, or to promote a theatrical exhibition, athletic
performance, or competition. A showing of likelihood of
consumer confusion – usually the touchstone of trademark
infringement – isnotrequired. Other countries have their own statutes,
which may differ in various respects.
Two years ago, the Summer Olympics in London produced a number
of stories about small-town merchants who got nasty-grams from the
sponsoring committee. Some of the situations – like the
butcher who made a five-ring display out of sausage links –
were mildly amusing. One shudders to think about what kinds of
cease-and-desist letters they write in Russia...
The lesson is simple. If you're thinking about using
any Olympicsor Super Bowl-related words, slogans, or symbols to
market your goods and services, think again. And talk to a
trademark lawyer before proceeding.
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