Aug 16, 2016

Trade Marks, the Olympics and Social Media Hashtags

Plenty of us are in the Olympic Spirit despite having to stay up late into the night to catch some of the exciting. Journalists continue to report on the latest sporting developments as well as what athletes and reporters are wearing in and out of the spotlight. But what about the intellectual property questions raised by the Olympics?

The BBC published an interesting article raising the issue of Olympic organisers and trade marks they have registered. A mark of particular interest this year is "RIO 2016" (registered as a European Union Trade Mark by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)). The United States Olympic Committee reportedly wrote to several sports-related businesses that were not official Olympic sponsors, claiming that the use of a social media 'hashtag' incorporating the mark would constitute trade mark infringement (that is the use of the hashtag to promote social media accounts linked to businesses, not on those of individuals).

A likely purpose of this aggressive approach was to seek to protect the investment made by official sponsors, for example McDonalds, Samsung and Coca Cola, who obviously pay for the privilege and have a commercial relationship with the Olympic Games and Committees. This may have been an overly aggressive approach to be seen to protect the commercial value of sponsorship deals, in seeking to prevent companies that are not official sponsors from benefitting from indirectly associating themselves with the games.

Simply put, trade mark infringement is where a person uses an identical or a similar mark for identical or similar goods and services to those in respect of which a mark is registered. Registered trade marks can create significant commercial value and also act as a deterrent to prevent competitors using a mark, which would constitute trade mark infringement. However, on the other hand, there are several relevant defences to trade mark infringement, including reporting on current events. It is likely that a business' tweets including the above hashtag would constitute descriptive use or reporting on a significant current event.

However, this does not mean the Olympic officials aren't willing to enforce their trade mark rights, business Oiselle was contacted in respect of trade mark infringement following posting photographs which included (a very small representation of) the Olympic rings on one of their athlete's vests. You can read about that story here.

If you have any questions on the above please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or

in: News, Trade Marks

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