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IP and the Olympic Games 2012

IP and the Olympic Games 2012

01/11/05

'Ambush marketing' is the term used to describe the activities of a company, which seeks to associate itself with, and take advantage of, the publicity surrounding a major event, for example the Olympic Games, without paying to become an official sponsor of the event.

 

At the Atlanta Games in 1996, it was reported that NIKE used 'ambush marketing' techniques to exploit the event for huge commercial gain, allegedly  winning more brand recognition than two of the official sponsors, Reebok and  Adidas. Nike had apparently used every available billboard in Atlanta to advertise it's trademarks and handed free banners bearing the "Just Do It" slogan to spectators outside stadiums, which were then innocently waved to great effect. The campaign was so successful that following the Games, many  assumed that NIKE had been an official sponsor.

 

Given that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) raises funding worth £billions by selling "exclusive" rights to use the Olympic trademarks and symbols to official sponsors, it is vitally important that the Committee guarantees the exclusivity of those rights. Therefore, the Committee now legally requires every host city to take appropriate measures to prevent 'ambush marketing' and protect the IP rights that have become associated with the Games.

 

To this end, the "London Olympics Bill" was introduced in the House of Commons On 14th July 2005. In line with IOC requirements, the Bill seeks to regulate commercial exploitation of the Games, partly by  providing additional legal protection to the Olympic symbols and related  intellectual property.

 

The use of Olympic Symbols etc in the UK is already protected by the Olympic Symbol etc (protection) Act 1995. The draft Bill seeks to amend this Act to extend existing protection to the Paralympics, to create "The Paralympic association right" and to expand the circumstances in which the effect of the Act would be limited.  The Bill also creates the 'London Olympics association right', conferring exclusive rights in relation to "visual or verbal representation (of any kind) in a manner likely to create in the public mind an association between the London Olympics and goods/services or a person who provides goods/services." The Bill in it's current form provides that this right would be infringed by the use of a combination of terms from Lists 1 and 2 below.

 

List 1

"games", "Two Thousand and Twelve", "2012" and "twenty twelve".

 

List 2

"gold", "silver", "bronze", "London", "medals", "sponsor", and "summer".

 

Combinations of terms all contained within the second group would not infringe London Olympics association right.

 

Under the provisions of the Bill, the Secretary of State would be able to amend the terms to be included on the lists  where necessary in order to prevent the commercial exploitation of the Games.

 

The proposed restrictions are intended simply to mirror those that applied in Sydney 2000, but critics claim that the Bill stipulates a greater  number of 'restricted terms', inhibiting the ability of companies to go about their normal business. For example the Bill in it's current form would be infringed by phrases such as "Come to London in 2012" or "Watch  the games at our pub this summer". The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is lobbying MPs to remove the list of banned words from the Bill  on the basis that it is too extreme and would limit freedom of commercial  expression.

 

In light of such criticism the Department for Culture, Media & Sport has published a 'fact sheet', confirming that certain combinations of  words would be prohibited by the Act and that such infringement may result in damages being awarded against the infringer, but that the Bill would not "...put a blanket ban on expressions such as 'come to London in 2012'", unless the expression is used to create an association with the Games. The Department states "It will have to be decided on a case by case basis whether infringement has occurred but the intention of the Bill is to adopt a common sense approach. So for example factual references to London and to the Olympics will still be perfectly legal."

 

Further information regarding the progress of this Bill through Parliament will be provided as it becomes available.