15 August 2016Trademarks

WIPR survey: Readers agree on ‘overzealous’ IP protection for Olympics

WIPR’s readers agree that organisers and sponsors of the Olympic Games are overzealous in their approach to intellectual property protection.

As the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro continues into its second week, 96.97% of respondents to WIPR’s most recent survey, which asked whether organisers were being overprotective, agreed that they were.

On August 8, WIPR reported that a law firm had sued the US Olympic Committee (USOC) on behalf of a Minnesota-based carpet cleaning business.

JUX Law Firm said it was seeking clarification over apparent ‘bullying’ tactics surrounding the use of Olympic-themed hashtags on social media.

Various concerns were raised in our reader responses with some arguing that the Olympic spirit had been lost.

“The Olympic spirit has been overtaken by the need to make money,” one reader said.

Another added: “The committee completely fails to understand the marketing value of social media [and] completely misinterprets its mission to spread the Olympic spirit and encourage sport … It is clearly, like so many other international sport efforts, more concerned with preserving the status and functions of its own bureaucracy.”

The protection strategies showed the committee was “failing to live up to the Olympic spirit”, said another reader, who added that although it is good to remind the public about IP, concentrating on enforcement “neither enhances public knowledge nor the public estimation of the good that IP systems can promote”.

In recent weeks the USOC has reportedly contacted companies that sponsor athletes but who do not have a commercial relationship with the USOC or the International Olympic Committee (IOC) warning them against using its trademarks.

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

“Everyone understands the need to protect the brand but going as far as hashtags seems a bit much. It makes it difficult to show support for the games or an event,” said one reader.

Another respondent pointed out the “very contradictory” fact that the Olympics relies on integration and participation of competitors as ‘one’, but that the tactics for protecting the brand are about “exclusivity and exclusion”.

Other comments, of which there were many, referenced instances whereby organisers had targeted examples of fair use.

“It's well documented that the IOC fires off cease-and-desist letters even in cases of fair use,” one reader wrote.

Another added: “Fair use is especially important in today's world where social media often serves as a news reporting channel.”

For this week’s survey, we ask: “Last week WIPR reported that an underwear brand called Comfyballs, which was initially denied a US trademark for its name because the term was deemed “vulgar”, has now had an application accepted provided the product is only used for women.  Should the term be accepted for women but not for men?”

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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.
22 August 2016   Usain Bolt’s management team has warned against violating his intellectual property rights, including trademarks for his name and his image.