• Former Gold Medalist Can't Clear Olympic Ad Hurdle
  • July 4, 2012
  • Law Firm: Proskauer Rose LLP - New York Office
  • The London 2012 Olympic Games may eventually be remembered for many things-another world record by Usain Bolt, the retirement of Michael Phelps, or perhaps, public toilets with taped-over logos.

    Taping and painting over logos on toilets is one of the ways the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ("LOCOG") is policing the Olympic brand's association with non-sponsor brands, images, and venues. Other measures have included requiring local businesses to remove the word "Olympic" from their names and restricting the upload of content onto social media platforms.

    These measures are an attempt by the organizers to blow the whistle on activities that might threaten the value of exclusive deals that television distributors and sponsors have signed to be associated with the Olympic brand. The actions find support in legislation passed by the English Parliament at the behest of the International Olympic Committee ("IOC"). The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (the "Act") took the baton forward from the UK's Olympic Symbol Protection Act 1995 to provide even stricter intellectual property protection, advertising regulation, and penalties. Section 33(3) of the Act, for example, identifies combinations of expressions that may infringe LOCOG's intellectual property rights. Some combinations include the use of "2012" together with the word "gold" or the use of "twenty twelve" in conjunction with the word "medals."

    As we previously reported, legislation at the national level in Olympics host countries that gives extra protection to the Olympics brand is not new, but sponsors may have to watch their steps more carefully in London to keep from crossing the foul line and jumping face first into the sand.

    In a recent example of the LOCOG's enforcement efforts, former UK hurdler and gold medalist Sally Gunnell was participating in a photo shoot for easyJet, a non-sponsor airline, and was about to strike a pose with the UK flag draped over her shoulders, when a LOCOG official present for the shoot threw a javelin through those plans and prohibited the pose. The official found that Gunnel's stance would create too direct an association with her post-victory pose from the 1992 Olympics. Presumably, this was deemed by the official to be a violation of Section 33(2) of the Act, which finds infringement when "in the course of trade . . . [the alleged infringer] uses in relation to goods or services any representation (of any kind) in a manner likely to suggest to the public that there is an association between the London Olympics and" those goods or services, or the person providing them.

    Previously, London organizers had promised, "Where there are serious or deliberate attempts to ambush the Games ... we will take swift and firm action." Whether the alleged infringement above deserved such firm action or the organizers have jumped the gun, one thing is clear-when it comes to brand policing, no one can accuse the London 2012 Olympic Games organizers of failing to carry the torch.