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Protecting a Trademark

Protection of Olympic Trademarks 

Fact Sheets Review in Progress

 Quick reference for London 2012, prepared by Simon Bennett and Sarah Redmond of Fox Williams

See also: and 

1. What are the Olympic trademarks?

The Olympic trademarks protected by U.S. statute (36 U.S.C. 220506(c)) include: the name "UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE”; the symbol of the International Olympic Committee, consisting of five interlocking rings; the words "Olympic, " "Olympiad" and "Citius Altius Fortius," and also the words "Paralympic," "Paralympiad," "Pan-American" and "America Espirito Sport Fraternite," or any combination of these words; the emblem of the United States Olympic Committee, consisting of an escutcheon having a blue chief and vertically extending red and white bars on the base with five interlocking rings displayed on the chief; and the symbols of the International Paralympic Committee and the Pan-American Sports Organization, consisting of a torch surrounded by concentric rings.

2. Who has the exclusive right to use, and to authorize others to use, the Olympic trademarks?

The United States Olympic Committee (the USOC or the Corporation), chartered by Congress in 1950 to be responsible for participation by United States athletes in the Olympic and Pan-American Games (and now also the Paralympic Games), has exclusive rights to the Olympic trademarks, including the trademarks of the Paralympic and Pan-American Games.

The USOC may also authorize contributors and suppliers of goods or services to use the Olympic trademarks to advertise that the contributions, goods or services were donated or supplied to, or approved, selected, or used by the USOC, the U.S. Olympic team, the Paralympic team, the Pan-American team, or team members.

3. How are these rights enforced?

By statute, the USOC may file a civil action against any person if that person, without consent of the USOC, uses the Olympic trademarks for the purpose of trade, to induce the sale of any goods or services, or to promote any theatrical exhibition, athletic performance, or competition. A showing of actual consumer confusion, or even a likelihood of such confusion, is not necessary for the USOC to prevail. The statute makes actionable any use of the word Olympic or similar terms tending to cause confusion or mistake, to deceive, or to falsely suggest a connection with the Corporation or any Olympic, Paralympic, or Pan American Games activity. This is a lower standard than the "likely to cause confusion" showing required to prevail under the Trademark Act. The USOC is also not required to show that an unauthorized use of the Olympic trademarks is occurring in connection with goods or services similar to those on which the USOC has previously authorized use.

Historically, the USOC has actively policed its rights to maintain the strength of the Olympic trademarks and thus protect Olympic corporate sponsors against dilution of the value of the Olympic trademarks. In this manner, the USOC ensures its financial health through a strong licensing program. The penalties for unauthorized use of the Olympic trademarks have also become progressively more severe, by action of the courts and by Congress, evidencing their strong commitment to the USOC corporate sponsorship program. The Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1984 also includes special provisions for counterfeit uses of the Olympic trademarks. These provisions include criminal penalties, right of seizure by ex parte application, and award of attorneys’ fees and wrongful profits.

4. Are there exceptions to these rights?

The word Olympic may be used, without sanction, to identify a business or goods or services if:

  1. such use is not combined with any of the Olympic trademarks
  2. it is evident from the circumstances that such use of the name "Olympic" refers to the naturally occurring mountains or geographical region of the same name, and that it does not refer to the Corporation or to any Olympic activity
  3. such business, goods or services are operated, sold and marketed in the state of Washington, west of the Cascade Mountain range, and marketing outside this area is not substantial
Also, any use of Olympic commencing before September 21, 1950, may continue. It is important to note that each country in which the Olympics are held may enact specific legislation governing the use of the Olympic trademarks and other Olympic insignia. Expert advice should be sought from local attorneys in the jurisdiction where the Olympic games are scheduled to be held

Other Resources

U.S. Olympic Committee

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