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Tokyo 2020 has already been embroiled in some embarrassing IP mishaps, but the Olympic Committee, police and customs are determined to tackle any IP infringement that might arise, as WIPR finds out.
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
These are the words of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games. And in 2020, his vision will come to life once again, this time in Japan.
But since the first modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece, in 1896, things have changed. New technologies have been invented, brands have become global, and IP rules have come a long way.
De Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) two years before the first games took place. The governing body, which still oversees the Games, is responsible for negotiating sponsorship and broadcasting rights, among other things.
In Japan, an organisational committee—the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee—for Tokyo 2020 was established to help ensure the Games run smoothly and to deal with marketing, sponsorship and IP infringement.
However, although the lead up to the Games seems to be going well, there have been some IP hiccups along the way.
In September 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics’ logo was scrapped, amid claims of plagiarism.
Designer Kenjiro Sano was accused of copying a logo designed by Olivier Debie for the Théâtre de Liège in Belgium in 2013.
Liège, together with the theatre, sued the IOC but Liège dropped the suit because of legal costs, according to the Japan Times.
Seven months after the alleged infringement hit the headlines, the new logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was unveiled.
As part of the selection process for the new emblem, the committee conducted trademark research in Japan and overseas on the four designs shortlisted by the emblem selection committee.
“Tokyo 2020 also commissioned a copyright check by publishing the final shortlist and collecting a wide range of information on the four designs, as well as by collecting materials from the creators of the designs which explained their production process,” explained Tokyo 2020.
But Tomohoro Nakamura, managing partner at Konishi & Nakamura, was frustrated with the outcome.
He believes that the matter was settled without discussing IP issues, since the committee was under time constraints and perhaps preferred “to put out the fires” of the criticism raised against the diligence of Tokyo 2020 in the process of selecting the first logo and the scandals surrounding the logo’s creator.
Sano has also been accused of copyright infringement in other projects. In August 2015, Reuters reported that Sano’s office had asked a beer company to withdraw some of his designs due to new accusations of copyright infringement.
“Legally, I believe that the first logo would not infringe any IP rights, including the copyrights of the Belgian designer who complained,” said Nakamura.
That’s not all: in July 2015, the Japanese government dumped plans for a stadium designed by Zaha Hadid, amid concerns of rising costs.
According to reports, the organisers had refused to pay Hadid for her design until she gave up all copyright on the project.
The architect behind the new stadium then had to deny that he had borrowed parts of Hadid’s design.
Aside from dealing with copyright accusations, the Tokyo 2020 committee also has to contend with counterfeit items attempting to take advantage of the Games’ prestige.
“I understand that various cease-and-desist letters have been sent to parties that the committee has considered to be involved in violation of its trademark rights,” said Kensaku Takase, partner in Baker McKenzie’s Tokyo office.
Once Tokyo 2020 becomes aware of an infringement, the committee contacts the infringer and requests that they voluntarily stop the infringement.
“If the infringer refuses our requests, then Tokyo 2020 may take legal action but so far, our amicable approach has been successful in preventing most of the infringements,” the committee told WIPR, adding that there have been some criminal cases.
Nakamura thinks that the country is well prepared to defend the IP surrounding the Games, but that it could depend on how proactive the authorities are in enforcing IP rights in cooperation with IP owners.
He adds that this is especially true in how police officers located in countryside areas are educated about IP by the central office of the police department.
Tokyo 2020 also has a close relationship with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Japan customs for the prevention of counterfeit goods.
Customs are empowered to enforce IP rights at sea ports, airports and post offices.
But physical counterfeits being produced or entering Japan are just one part of the equation. Online piracy can play a very damaging role.
The committee has been monitoring IP infringements across the internet. If Tokyo 2020 finds an IP infringement, it takes action.
If the infringement is conducted outside Japan, Tokyo 2020 cooperates with the IOC as well as other national Olympic committees to tackle it.
“The Tokyo 2020 committee is expected to be proactive to find and pursue counterfeit products and cooperate with police offices,” explains Nakamura.
According to the partner, IP rights owners can expect e-commerce providers (such as Amazon and Rakuten) to watch stores to determine whether they are dealing in fakes, because under Japanese jurisprudence, e-commerce providers are liable for trademark infringements in certain circumstances.
Stealing the show
When the camera zoomed in on US swimmer Michael Phelps during the London Olympic Games in 2012, a pair of headphones with the brand covered by a US flag sticker were brought into view.
But Phelps had not covered all the logos he needed to, and the word mark ‘Beats’ was visible across the top of the headphones.
Dr Dre’s Beats was not an official sponsor of the Games but the company gained a great deal of exposure after providing athletes with headphones.
The headphone company is not the only business to have gained publicity around the Olympics.
In fact, ambush marketing is so widespread during major sporting events that countries have had to introduce legislation in a bid to crack down on it.
The UK and Brazil both introduced specific legislation banning companies from associating with the Olympic Games before hosting the event.
So far, Japan has not, but that doesn’t mean the committee isn’t angling for legislation to address issues such as ambush marketing and ticket scalping.
“With regard to ambush marketing, we agree with the principle adopted by Rio 2016 that regardless of whether advertising or marketing is deliberately targeting a Games area, it is important to request that parties understand and adhere to the rules so they can contribute to the wider success of the Games,” the committee says.
Although there are no specific rules yet in place, Nakamura expects that police enforcement will be proactive, along with seizures on borders by customs.
“The Japanese government’s position appears to be that the existing IP laws are sufficient to deal with IP infringement. Whether that is correct will remain to be seen,” explains Takase.
He adds that ambush marketing tends to be an issue among competitors, and that most large Japanese companies tend to sponsor sports teams, players or other events in one form of another.
“Information I received from one such company was that Japanese companies feared negative repercussions for their existing sponsorship arrangements with non-Olympic events, should they be involved in ambush marketing.
“This was seen as a sufficient deterrent to refrain from such activities,” says Takase.
Social media clearly holds a lot of power in this domain and seems to have become an excellent vehicle for ambush marketing.
At the 2016 UEFA European Championship, Iceland (the country and the UK frozen food retailer) became unlikely heroes.
When the Icelandic football team qualified for the competition, the UK retailer, which was not an official sponsor of the competition, agreed to sponsor the team.
In a surprising turn of events, the English football team was knocked out of the championship by Iceland, in a 2-1 victory to the smaller nation.
The food shop, through its Twitter account, gained large amounts of publicity on the back of the country’s time in the competition.
Although the shop was mocked for tweeting at Nando’s when Iceland drew 1-1 with Portugal (Nando’s is a South African restaurant, not Portuguese), its tweet to Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo (“No need for tears over last night, mate. Just get our frozen chopped onions on the job”) was re-tweeted thousands of times.
That’s one way to get your brand out there.
“We believe social media is becoming more and more influential, but we have not experienced a great deal of ambush marketing using social media as a platform,” says the committee.
This doesn’t mean the committee is unprepared.
“But with the increase in use and reach of social media, we understand the need to prepare to ensure we can respond accordingly,” it concludes.
And prepare is exactly what the committee must do. October 29 marked 1,000 days until the start of the Olympic Games and the committee must be ready to tackle any IP problem thrown at it.
Tokyo 2020, IP, Intellectual property at the Olympics, counterfeits, ambush marketing, IP infringement, social media, Olympic games,