The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are upon us! With the Opening Ceremony set to kick off this Friday, August 5, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These Games mark the first time the Olympics will be hosted in South America, and the first time in a Portuguese-speaking country.

While there has been no shortage of setbacks and controversy surrounding this year’s Games, within and outside the sporting world, the Rio 2016 Olympics should be a fun watch, with more athletes and nations competing in more events than ever before. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games even feature a 10-member Refugee Team, with the hope of bringing greater attention to the magnitude of the global refugee crisis.

Since we are a trademark law firm, we could not talk about the Olympics without addressing the painstaking branding and brand protection measures that come with the Olympic games. The Olympics are a rare global marketing opportunity for many companies and brands. This month, we take a look at trademark issues surrounding the Olympics and the rights to use the many trademarked terms associated with the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), an international non-profit and non-governmental agency based in Lausanne, Switzerland, owns exclusive rights to the Olympic rings as well as the Olympic flag, motto, anthem, Olympic flame and torches, all other identifiers, designations and emblems associated with the Olympics, and all location specific logos, emblems and icons created for each Games (London 2012, Rio 2016, etc). These are collectively referred to as the “Olympic properties.”

The IOC is the worldwide owner of numerous trademark registrations protecting its Olympic properties. All rights to any and all of the Olympic properties belong exclusively to the IOC, including rights to their use in relation to profit-making, commercial use or advertising purposes. In the United States, the Olympic trademarks are protected by statute over and above ordinary trademark protection.

Since the IOC is a privately funded organization, it relies heavily on the value of its exclusive brand portfolio to generate income. This occurs primarily through the staging of the Olympic games every four years and the exclusive corporate and non-commercial sponsorship opportunities that accompany the Games. In short, you have to pay to play (pun intended). And if you’re not paying the IOC, you cannot use the term Olympics, Olympiad, the 5-ring logo, the Torch, the city-specific logo, the Paralympics name or logo or any other of the Olympic properties for any commercial purpose. Period.

Both the IOC, its committees and the Games’ host cities have a vested interest in maintaining strict controls over who is entitled to use the Olympics trademarks and intellectual property. Corporate and non-commercial sponsors pay handsome royalties and licensing fees or provide costly concessions to gain the right to advertise or sponsor the Olympic Games. Thus, the IOC and its attorneys go to great lengths to prohibit any unauthorized use of the Olympic properties which could damage the Olympics brand and undermine the value of official sponsorships.

Prior to each Olympic Games, the IOC issues brand protection guidelines that govern how the Olympics trademarks (referred to this year as the “Rio 2016 Brands”) can and cannot be used. They are, in short, as follows:

1. Only organizers and official partners can use the official Rio 2016 brands for commercial purposes, provided that they always have prior and specific written approval.

2. Editorial and journalistic use of the Rio 2016 brands is permitted if there is no commercial association between the published content and the Games.

3. Rio 2016 brands may be used as an illustration, to indicate a
statement of facts‘. For example, on a website where there is
a section of news and updates, but without any commercial
purpose or association with the Games.

4. The protected brands may be used to communicate opinions and illustrate popular or cultural expressions, provided there is no commercial purpose or association with the Games.

5. The Rio 2016 brands may NOT be used association with any kind of propaganda, whether partisan, religious, political and, especially, advertising with the purpose of promoting the sale of products and services.

6. The Rio 2016 brands may NOT be used as a theme or focus for any kind of promotion, competition and/or lottery draw, in a manner that might create a direct association with the Games.

7. The Rio 2016 brands may NOT be used to create countdown clocks, or other devices/applications that perform the same function, because the exclusive rights to such are held by Omega, the Game’s international sponsor.

8. The Rio 2016 brands may NOT be used in the production or merchandising of any type of product or material (t-shirts, mugs, pins, etc.) for promotional, institutional and, above all, commercial purposes.

9. The Rio 2016 Brands may NOT be used to name a commercial or business establishment, or as a website or domain name.

10. The Rio 2016 brands may NOT be used to name an event, project or programme, even with no commercial purpose, without prior authorization.

11. Athletes who are competing in the Games may NOT participate in advertising campaigns or permit use of their image, during the competition period, as well as 15 days before and after competition.

The IOC brand guidelines aim to prevent unauthorized use of the Olympics brand and false association with the Olympics Games. For more information on what’s considered lawful use of the Olympics trademarks, or to review the Olympics brand protection guidelines in detail, please visit the official website,

For more information on protecting your trademark, or steering clear of trademark infringement this summer, please contact us for a complimentary consultation. We’re always happy to hear from you!

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