6 April 2017Trademarks

US Olympic Committee TM ‘bullying’ suit thrown out

A court has thrown out a lawsuit brought against the US Olympic Committee (USOC) by a Minnesota-based carpet cleaning business over the committee’s “bullying” tactics surrounding Olympic-themed hashtags.

A day before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro began, in August last year, US-based JUX Law Firm filed the complaint on behalf of Zerorez at the US District Court for the District of Minnesota alleging that the committee had “exaggerated the strength” of its trademark rights.

This followed accusations against the USOC of “legal bullying” in its attempts to stop unofficial sponsors from using Olympic-related hashtags on social media.

The committee had reportedly contacted companies that sponsored athletes but didn’t have a commercial relationship with the USOC or the International Olympic Committee, warning them against using its trademarks.

The USOC said posts that use terms including ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympian’, ‘Team USA’, ‘Future Olympian’, ‘Let the Games begin’, and ‘Road to Rio’ should be avoided.

According to the claim, the USOC’s actions had the effect of “chilling, silencing, and censoring Zerorez’s speech about the Olympics on social media”, although the committee had never communicated with Zerorez.

But District Judge Wilhelmina Wright dismissed the suit on Tuesday, April 4.

“No actual controversy between Zerorez and USOC is established from the totality of circumstances presented here,” she said.

Wright added that if reports of the USOC’s letters created an actual controversy between it and Zerorez—a company with which the committee had never communicated before the suit—then any company that is not an official sponsor could bring a declaratory judgment action against the USOC by asserting the same facts.

“Such a conclusion would eviscerate the actual controversy requirement,” she said.

Aaron Hall, CEO of JUX Law Firm, said: “The USOC won this battle, but the war over free speech is not over. We believe our constitutional freedom of speech gives patriotic small businesses the right to express their Olympic spirit on social media.”

He added that Zerorez had not decided whether it would appeal, and is taking time to consider its options.

“We hope the USOC will stop threatening the free speech rights of patriotic small businesses. If it continues to chill free speech, I suspect it won’t be long before another small business seeks legal protection from the courts.”

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More on this story

5 August 2016   A law firm claims it has sued the US Olympic Committee on behalf of a Minnesota-based carpet cleaning business over its ‘bullying’ tactics surrounding Olympic themed hashtags.