“This reminds me of trade-mark disputes” is a statement you will rarely hear while watching the Olympics –unless, of course, an articling student catches you streaming the Games to your office computer then it’s a teachable moment: “Hey, you should write my article about it.” Bottom line, most of this article is properly credited to CJ Articling Student, Scott Buchanan; especially the part starting now:
There are certain words and symbols (or combinations), marks, specific to the Olympic Games and Team Canada; to name a few: the rings, the maple leaf with flame and rings, or even “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.
These marks are protected by a variety of measures including as registered marks under the Trademark Act (which provides protection to all registered trademarks), as official marks and under the Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, which was passed in the lead up to the Vancouver games.
Why afford all these protections? Outside of the Olympic context, consider a business that operates under a certain name, logo and packaging for a number of years, building up goodwill and brand loyalty. That business’s marks allow consumers to distinguish the product they know, like and trust from products they don’t.
It wouldn’t be fair and, possible, not legal, for another business to setup shop with the same or similar name, logo and packaging (a move sometimes referred to as “ambush marketing”) and then benefit from the misperception created with consumers.
It’s similar with the Games. Olympic marks have considerable goodwill and value. By licensing the marks to Official Sponsors, the Canadian Olympic Committee (“COC”) collects licensing fees that, in turn, go to support the Canadian Olympic Team and our athletes. If anyone can use the marks to sell a product, then there would be little reason to be an Official Sponsor.
This is the issue at dispute now between the COC and North Face. Very recently, the COC filed an injunction against North Face, claiming one of their product lines and the promotion of it was designed to create the false impression in consumers that North Face was associated with Team Canada and the 2014 Games. Of course, the COC’s allegations have not been proven in court.
Every Olympics, companies will try to appeal to our patriotism –sometimes it’s genuine and sometimes it profit motivated. Regardless, there’s a risk that the line between patriotism and infringement can sometimes be crossed.
Adam Kowalsky is an associate at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. For more articles, visit the Library Page at www.cobbjones.ca.