26 October 2015Trademarks

World Sport Law & IP Forum: social media ‘biggest threat’ in ambush marketing

Using social media for ambush marketing is posing the biggest threat to intellectual property owners, an industry conference has heard.

That was the conclusion to a discussion into current trends in ambush marketing at the World Sport Law & IP Forum which is being held at the London Stock Exchange today, October 26.

“Social media is the biggest threat to IP owners, because it is so difficult to clampdown on once it is out there. If something goes viral then you've already lost,” said Alex Kelham, partner at law firm Lewis Silkin.

But the challenge is made harder by parties attempting to associate themselves with an event without using the organisation's registered trademarks said Miguel Portela, director of legal affairs at the Portugese Olympic Committee.

One such example is the Oreo advertisement posted on Twitter during the Super Bowl in 2013 when a power cut caused play to be delayed.

Oreo used no official National Football League logos or trademarks but instead posted an image of an Oreo in a dark room with the tagline “you can still dunk in the dark”.

Also, in 2014, chocolate bar Snickers ran an advert on social media platforms stating that its product is “more satisfying than Italian”, in reference to Uruguay’s Luis Suarez biting an Italian defender at the 2014 football World Cup.

However, one attendee questioned whether enforcing such rights can infringe upon an individual's freedom of speech.

Kelham said balancing both rights is a challenge, but agreed that “no-one has a monopoly on expression”.

Janice Shardlow, general counsel at the British Equestrian Federation, warned against the “collateral damage” that brand owners may incur if they enforce their rights too vigorously.

Shardlow also criticised countries introducing specific legislation to protect such events.

The UK government passed specific legislation before the 2012 London Olympic Games which centred on the IP belonging to the International Olympic Committee.

“Legislation is dangerous and can go further than it needs to,” she argued.

It was noted in the discussion that no such legislation was passed for the 2015 Rugby World Cup nor has Brazil passed any similar laws ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics due to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

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