The Intellectual Property of the Olympics

As the summer weather heats up, we are less than a month away from the 2012 Olympic Games, taking place in London from July 27th to August 12. The Games offer an astonishing display of athletic excellence, hard work, determination, national pride and inspiring stories, supported by a huge volume of marketing and advertising campaigns and promotional tie-ins. The 5 interlocking rings are one of the top globally recognized icons, and the event is so well known, it’s commonly just referred to as ‘The Games’. Olympic Logo

It’s fascinating to consider the various intellectual property assets that are associated with the Olympics, including the individual variations belonging to each event (venue?). WIPO has published an in-depth look at the Olympic Properties in the June edition of their magazine, which are defined as including “the Olympic symbol as well as the Olympic flag, motto, anthem, identifiers (such as “Olympic Games” and “Games of the Olympiad”), designations, emblems, the Olympic flame and torches.”

Interestingly, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) now owns a number of trademarks protecting these properties, but was only granted these rights in 1993 in certain regional jurisdictions. Prior, many national trademark laws limited protection only to commercial companies, thus excluding the non-profit IOC. It now has extensive coverage of all permanent properties such as terms like ‘Olympic Games’ and ‘Olympiad’, as well as the protection of identifiers for each specific Games such as ‘London 2012′.

As a privately funded organization, the IOC retains only 8% of its marketing revenue for operational and administrative costs, the rest is distributed to support the staging of the Olympic Games and to promote worldwide development of sport. Support from the business community is therefore crucial, and so trademark and copyright infringement can have serious consequences. You can read more about the Olympic Trademarks protection on the INTA website, and Mary Pilon of the New York Times has written an interesting piece on the possible scenarios and implications for individuals and businesses infringing upon those rights: Trademarks can Trip-Up Well-Intentioned Crafters. Good to hear they’re not going after grandparents knitting Olympic-themed tea cozies at home!

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