A few weeks ago, we wrote here about the risks of using in advertising and promotions the Olympic trademarks, symbols or marks that may suggest an association with the Olympic Games.  The Olympic Committee recently demonstrated just how serious it is about its marks, sending a letter to non-Olympic sponsor companies, warning them  that they “may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” and may not  use the “USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA” (presumably to protect the investments of Olympic sponsors).  According to ESPN, which obtained a copy of the letter, it goes on to say that a “company whose primary mission is not media-related cannot reference any Olympic results, cannot share or repost anything from the official Olympic account and cannot use any pictures taken at the Olympics.”  Apparel company Oiselle tested the waters earlier this month by posting a photo of athlete Kate Grace after winning the 800 meters at the trials, and was promptly contacted by USOC with a request to remove the pictures (the company opted to leave the pictures up but blurred any Olympic imagery).  So while media companies have some wiggle room to cover the news from Rio, non-media companies are essentially on an Olympic-sized lockdown.

This restrictive stance did not go unnoticed by comedian Stephen Colbert, who earlier this week took the Olympic Committee to the mat with a biting parody that pokes fun at the Committee’s militant protection of its trademarks.  Colbert’s routine, available here, cleverly turns the Olympic rings into five interlocking CBS symbols and introduces the show’s new summer sponsor, MUSA TEA.  After explaining that the tea is brewed “from the freshest mint in Morocco’s Musa mountains,” he encourages fans to share with family and friends by using the hashtag #TEAMUSA.
Continue Reading Stephen Colbert Brews Up a Parody on Aggressive Protection of Olympic Trademarks

Over the last several months, we have written about the risks of publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the SUPER BOWL® or MARCH MADNESS® without first asking the NFL or the NCAA, respectively, for permission to use those marks.  With millions of viewers about to tune into the OLYMPIC® games in Rio this August, we similarly remind our readers that any Olympic trademarks, symbols or other branded content should not be used in advertising and marketing campaigns across any media platforms (on-air, websites, social media sites, in hashtags, apps, etc.) except by authorized advertisers.  And, for the reasons we discuss below, dealing with these marks deserve an Olympic-size dollop of caution.

We’ve written before (here and here) how Olympic sponsors pay big bucks for the rights to sponsor the Olympics, and to get exclusivity to associate their brands with the games. Thus, the sponsors guard their territory carefully, as do the Olympic organizations whose ability to stage the games is dependent on such sponsorship.  Numerous small businesses, nonprofits, and even individuals have been on the receiving end of cease and desist letters, including, for example, a knitting group that used the term RAVELYMPICS for a knitting competition, a charcuterie in Portland named OLYMPIC PROVISIONS, and a Philadelphia sub shop named OLYMPIC GYRO.
Continue Reading Avoiding Olympic Hassles – Trademark and Other Legal Protections Limit the Use of Olympics, Paralympics and Related Terms in Advertising, Marketing, and Promotions

It’s that time again when broadcasters and advertisers need to watch their commercials and promotions to avoid improper uses of trademarked phrases – with the Super Bowl only weeks away, the Winter Olympics to follow soon thereafter and March Madness to follow closely after that.  Already, Stephen Colbert is making jokes about not using the Olympic rings in promotional announcements (see the first segment of last night’s show), so you know that the issue is arising at media outlets across the country.  As we do every year when the Super Bowl and March Madness roll around (and every other year at Olympics time), we remind broadcasters to scrutinize their advertising and promotions to avoid anything that appears to imply a tie in with any of these events – especially where the protected name of the event is used in the ad or promotion itself. (See past articles here and here). 

The Super Bowl and March Madness are both trademarked terms, and violations of the trademarks have been vigorously prosecuted by the NFL and the NCAA, respectively.  The US Olympic committee has gone one better, getting specific statutory protections in the US for the use of the term the Olympics and the interlocking rings that symbolize the games.  Sponsors of these events pay big bucks for the privilege of being associated with the events, and the organizations putting on the events rely on the money from these sponsors to fund their operations.  So they go out of their way to protect their trademarks.  I wrote the summer before last about my own experiences at the London Summer Olympics, where even the trademarks on the plumbing fixtures at the Olympic sites were obscured where the manufacturers had not obtained Olympics sponsorships.  So there are obviously limits on what can and cannot be said about these marks.  What are those limits?
Continue Reading Super Bowl, the Olympics and March Madness – Watch Your Advertising and Promotions for Unauthorized Uses of Trademarked Phrases

I was fortunate enough to spend some time earlier this month in London, at the Olympics. While there, I noticed just how closely the Olympic venues were guarding against any advertising from any non-official Olympic sponsors. This article from the AP notes how even the restroom fixtures had tape covering all brand names to prevent the manufacturers from getting any Olympic tie-in. I witnessed the tape and had puzzled over it many times when in London. At Wimbledon, too, where the tennis finals were held, the drink Pimms Cup, a fixture at events there, was not available as Pimms had not shelled out to be an Olympic sponsor. Again, I can attest that we spectators had to instead drink “No 1 Fruit Cup” which, I am told, was the same beverage. The AP article talks about many other similar enforcement actions taken by Olympic committees, zealously guarding Olympic trademarks. These actions all contain a warning for broadcasters – be very careful using any Olympic trademarks, symbols or other branded content in advertising and marketing campaigns, or those of other big events where trademarks (or service marks, as trademarks are known where they apply to services as opposed to goods) limit the use of the name of the big event.

We’ve written before (here and here) how Olympic sponsors pay big bucks for the rights to sponsor the Olympics, and to get exclusivity to associate their brands with the games. Thus, the sponsors guard their territory carefully, as do the Olympic organizations whose ability to stage the games is dependent on such sponsorship. Thus, when a broadcaster is approached by a local car dealer, who wants to promote an “Olympics of Savings”, or a local gym that wants to show in its commercial its exercise facilities with the Olympic rings hanging over a bank of treadmills, don’t do it, as there could be consequences far beyond the advertising revenues that you receive. And don’t plan your own WXXX Hometown Olympic festival, as that also could bring issues from the Olympic “police.”  (see this video on one local festival that confronted this issue from Comedy Central’s the Daily Show, not the first time that Comedy Central has explained trademark law -see our reference to a Colbert Report story dealing with the same question at the Winter Olympics).  And the Olympics is not the only event over which you should have this concern.Continue Reading The Olympic Trademark Reminder – Be Careful Using The Names of Big Events Without Permission

With the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics less than 2 weeks away, and March Madness not far behind, we once again need to remind our readers that all three are trademarked terms, meaning that their use, particularly for commercial purposes, is limited.  We’ve wrote here last year about the use of the term "Super Bowl" in commercials, and about the use of "Olympics" two years ago (here).  Our warning then bears repeating now – the trademarked terms should not be used in commercial messages except by authorized advertisers.  These advertisers have paid big bucks to be able to say that they are an Olympic sponsor, or that they are having a Super Bowl sale.  The holders of these trademarks enforce them rigorously (so that they can get the big bucks from the official advertisers), so don’t risk their use without official permission.  See our Super Bowl post from last year for details on how to refer to these events without running afoul of trademark limitations.

As we wrote last year, this does not prevent all use of these terms.  News reports about the events can still be given.  DJs can still chat about who is going to win the Super Bowl, or about the latest judging controversy in Ice Dancing at the Winter Olympics.  But don’t try to commercially exploit these terms (e.g. saying that you are "Springfield’s March Madness station") unless you have really paid for the rights to use the trademarked term.  Be careful, as a cute promotional idea can end up costing your station far more than you intended. Continue Reading Remember “Super Bowl”, the “Olympics” and “March Madness” Are Trademarked Terms – Don’t Use Them In Advertising Without Permission