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News > Merchants beware of unauthorised Olympic trading

At a lecture given by a top IP barrister to members of the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, in which Dr Roman Cholij of Cam Trade Marks & IP Services participated, the Olympic Act 2006 was described as 'draconian' towards traders.

Dr Roman Cholij of Cam Trade Marks & IP Services, based at St John’s Innovation Centre, entered into a public discussion with Mark Engelman, a top IP barrister from Hardwicke Building Chambers, Lincoln’s Inn, in the presence of an audience of over 60 solicitors and trade mark attorneys last Tuesday (22 January), during question time at an evening lecture to the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys on the Olympic Act 2006, held at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

The London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006 gives effect to the commitments made by the Government as part of London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Some of the main measures of the Act are the control of marketing in connection with the Olympic Games, including the protection of Olympic intellectual property, restrictions on commercial association with the Games, the prohibition of street trading and outdoor advertising in the vicinity of Olympic venues, and of ticket touting in connection with Olympic events.

Legal restrictions are now in place which prevent ‘any person’ from creating or suggesting an ‘association between a person, product or service and the Olympic Games or the Olympic movement, including any kind of contractual, commercial, corporate or structural connection, or provision of financial or other support’.

Mark Engelman called the measures ‘restrictive’, even ‘draconian’. Although not all of the details of the restrictions on traders have been worked out fully and implemented into law (with what is called ‘secondary legislation’), many things are quite clear and already in place.

Unless a trader has appropriate authorisation, he/she is banned from using a number of new restricted words and images that might suggest an association with the London Olympics 2012. Nor does this apply just to in and around London. There are some 31 Olympic venues and 21 Paralympic ones, too. The ban, which is already in effect and which will last until at least December 2012 is nationwide. It applies as much to car boot sales as to high street trading, and to T-shirt vendors on market stalls.

In 1995 the first Olympic Symbol Protection Act came out, preventing unauthorised use of International Olympic Committee intellectual property - the Olympic symbol - five interlocking rings, the Olympic motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, meaning ‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’ (originally a Parisian Catholic school’s motto for its pupil athletes!), and the protected words Olympiad, Olympiads, Olympian, Olympians, Olympic and Olympics.

Now, since 2006, in addition to the above, there is a new ‘Paralympics Association Right’ which bans unauthorised use of the motto, movement and symbol of the Paralympic games (the motto is ‘Spirit in Motion’) as well as the protected words Paralympiad, Paralympics, etc , namely the equivalent to the Olympic protected words.

More worrying, however, is the new so-called ‘London Olympics Association Right’. This includes a list of words and expressions that are ‘protected’ as far as persons who have not paid licence fees are concerned, since they might refer to an association between the London Olympics and the trading of goods and services, especially when used in combination. The list is comprised of two groups. In the first are the expressions ‘games’, ‘Two Thousand and Twelve’, ‘2012’, and ‘twenty twelve’; the second group comprises the words: ‘gold’, ‘silver’, ‘bronze’, ‘London’, ‘medals’, ‘sponsor’, and ‘summer’.

Of course, not all use of these words will be infringing - with a summary fine in a magistrates court of up to £20,000. The use has to be suggestive of an association with the Games.

There may be legitimate excuses for using words and symbols which otherwise might be construed as infringing (in law these are called ‘defences’), but the exceptions are quite restricted.

Traders should take legal advice, from a trade mark attorney or IP solicitor, before thinking of taking commercial advantage of Olympic fever, especially once the Beijing Olympics are concluded. The conclusion of the debate between Mark Engelman and Dr.Roman Cholij of Cam Trade Marks was that the legal argument for defence against infringing activity may be less than a defence lawyer might wish for. Caveat Mercator!

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