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Caution: Olympic Marks Ahead Staying In-bounds with the U.S. Olympic Committee

Beginning February 9th, the eyes of those interested in athletic endeavor and spectacle will turn to Pyeong Chang for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. As a brand owner, it is tempting to get caught up in and exploit the excitement, spirit, and national pride of the Olympics. But unless your company is an officially-licensed sponsor, or you’re offering journalistic, educational, or editorial content, your use of the word “Olympic” or other intellectual property of the International Olympic Committee/U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) may be prohibited. 

Federal statute gives the USOC exclusive rights to the words “Olympic,” “Olympiad,” “Team USA,” and “Pyeong Chang 2018” and to the symbols of the five interlocking rings, the Olympic flame and torch, and others. These exclusionary rights are heightened in that the USOC need not demonstrate the Lanham Act’s “likely to cause consumer confusion as to source” to prove trademark infringement.  Rather, a use merely “tending to cause confusion or mistake…or to falsely suggest a connection with the corporation or any Olympic, Paralympic, or Pan-American Games activity” is sufficient to invoke liability.[1]  

Given such protections, and the large sums paid by official sponsors, it is not surprising that the USOC aggressively polices unauthorized commercial uses of its intellectual property. But you may be surprised by what the USOC considers commercial use. For example, while the USOC encourages support and discussion of “Team USA” on personal social media accounts, use of USOC intellectual property on (non-sponsor) company social media accounts, such as #GoTeamUSA, or as re-postings from social media accounts of news organizations, is impermissible.

Before advertising or using anything evocative of or related to the Olympics --or a particular Olympic athlete-- commercially, we encourage brand owners to review the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Brand Usage Guidelines here, which provides guidance for all types of uses, or contact your trademark attorney.

[1]36 U.S.C. § 220506 (emphasis added).

© 2019 Sterne Kessler


About this Author

Julie D. Shirk, Patent & Trademark Specialist, Sterne Kessler Law Firm
Patent & Trademark Specialist

Julie D. Shirk joined Sterne Kessler in 1989 and continues to specialize in patents and trademarks in the firm's Mechanical Group.