By Gaurav Saxena

Historically, the IOC has used Olympic IPR to raise funds for the Olympic Movement. While the initial Games were predominantly supported by various National Governments and other private donations, even the first ever games did see a bit of IPR related activity – an important portion of the budget came from the issue and exclusive sale of twelve commemorative stamps. The 1984 Games in L.A. marked a paradigm shift resulting in the beginning of intensified usage of the Olympic IPR to finance the hosting of the Games. Ever since, the primary source of funds for the hosting of the Games has been the proceeds from the marketing program, which effectively depends on commercialising the Olympic IPR.

Association with the Olympic Movement is considerably valuable to many organisations around the world. These organisations are more than willing to pay for such association and the rights that come with it. To maximise the value of such an association with those entities, the IOC has come up with limited licenses that provide exclusivity in different industrial and geographic categories. Among the marketing programs for Olympic IPR is the “The Olympic Partners” program, through which companies endorse the Movement on a global scale and various television broadcast arrangements that allow the live and repeat telecast of the Games. Various National Olympic Committees are also permitted to adopt national level marketing programs licensing the Olympic IPR, so long as they do not clash with the IOC’s marketing efforts internationally.

The main aspect of this agreement with the sponsors is exclusivity. The IOC takes active measures to prevent the unauthorised use of Olympic IP so as to maintain this exclusivity. Firstly, while choosing the Host City, it encourages the NOCs to lobby their legislatures to enact special protective legislation for Olympic IPR. Next, each Host City contract imposes strict requirement on the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (OCOG) to register and protect, globally, all the trademarks for a particular Games. Finally the OCOGs and NOCs are to work together with the IOC to prevent ambush marketing.

The Olympic Games 2016 took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from the 5th to the 21st of August. To combat ambush marketing, the IOC enforced the now infamous Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter. Rule 40 is a very intricately created rule, but briefly, this rule prevents non sponsors from creating an undue association with the Games and consequently benefitting from the same. There are ways to work around this Rule, such as ‘Deemed Consent’ or ‘Rule 40 waiver’ which can be granted by the NOCs within a certain time period. But this rule also imposes a ‘blackout period’ (27th July-24th August) where even previously permissible advertisement by non sponsors is not allowed, thereby giving the benefits to its official sponsors. Athletes and sponsors alike contended that this rule placed an unfair restraint on them by preventing them from marketing during the vital period – the duration of the Games. But the IOC contended that this Rule is essential to preserve the unique non-commercial nature of the Games.[i]

Next, the IOC urges the NOCs to enact legislations. The protection offered by these legislations can go beyond what is normally available under IP laws. Under the Brazilion Olympic Act, the Olympic symbols are granted special protection on a temporary basis. Emblems, flags, mottos, mascots and torches used by the IOC are some of the entities that fall under this law. These also include various expressions such as Rio 2016 and Olympic Games, in any language. The protection period for these symbols and terms shall begin from the date of registration with the Brazilian National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) and extend till 31st December 2016.

The use of these symbols is prohibited even if it is for non-commercial purposes, unless authorised by the IOC. The act goes further and prohibits those terms that, even though they are outside of the list of protected symbols, bear a resemblance to those terms and are able to create any sort of association with the Olympic Movement or the Rio 2016 Games.

During the period of protection i.e. till the end of this year, any request for the registration of trademarks that constitute an imitation or a reproduction of the official symbols or are likely to create an association or cause any confusion with the IOC or the official symbols shall be rejected outright. Furthermore, the INPI will inform the NIC.br, which is the entity responsible for the registration of domain names in Brazil, of all registered trademarks, so that any requests for registration of domain names containing terms similar to the trademarks be refused ex officio.

IP law relating to the Olympics still has a long way to go. The advent of social media will definitely play a part in the further development of this field of as the current laws in place (Rule 40) start becoming obsolete and maintenance of the Games’ non-commercial nature becomes nigh on impossible.[ii]

[i] The Olympic Games (2016) Retrieved September3,2016 from aut.ac.nz.libguides.com/endnote/use_apa6th/websites

[ii] Olympics and IP (2016) Retrieved September 4,2016 from www.managingip.com/Article/3576454/The-Olympics-and-IP.html

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