Each Winter Olympics iteration requires so much planning that the host countries frequently start their efforts more than five years in advance. A crucially important but often underappreciated component of this preparation is safeguarding the intellectual property (IP) connected to the games.
The China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) developed a sizable number of registered trademarks for the tournament before the Beijing Games even got underway this month and was already aggressively punishing any infractions. But, it is vital to consider the larger historical and international context and the initiatives in Beijing to fully comprehend the ironclad protections of trademarks associated with the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee was traditional in 1894, marking the beginning of the modern Olympics, based on the games that were initially held in Ancient Greece more than 2,700 years ago (IOC). The competition returns to Athens, Greece, two years after meticulous planning. The Olympic phrases and symbols would only be safe for the IOC for a few years, and it would take another century for it to be able to register them as its exclusive trademarks.
Before the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Canada was the first country to enact legislation providing IP protection for IOC symbols, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Soon after, in 1981, the WIPO oversaw the Nairobi Treaty, to which all members vowed they would only use Olympic emblems or words in trademark registrations with the IOC’s express consent. The Olympics gradually gained intellectual property protections, although the IOC could only register its trademarks in Switzerland in 1993 because it is a nonprofit organisation.
Passing IP restrictions, such as Canada’s 1976 regulation, became a standard procedure for host nations after Australia and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Additionally, the IOC quickly identifies anyone utilising the organisation’s intellectual property (IP) in a commercial setting without permission, given that it has complete control over its registered trademarks.
Most visual, intellectual properties (VIPs) associated with the Olympics include the five interlocking rings emblem, which is well-known internationally and knocked up by the IOC.
Host countries frequently create distinctive logos and other works of art for the games conducted within their borders. Usually, these appear first as trademarks in the nation of origin.
For instance, out of 4,506 designs submitted, the Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee chose Lin Cunzhen’s creation, a well-known graphic artist and professor at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, as the 2022 Winter Games’ emblem as early as 2017. The straightforward but striking logo resembles the character for “winter” in Mandarin Chinese. The Beijing organising committee submitted Cunzhen’s work to the CNIPA the following year, along with 13 variations for the Olympics and Paralympics, and the agency’s trademark office registered them in 2019. That is according to China Daily. By the end of 2021, an effort to cover 61 relevant emblems was underway.
The CNIPA has also trademarked the two mascots for the 2022 Beijing Olympics: The Winter Games are the mirror by Bing Dwen Dwen, a giant panda bear dressed in an ice suit, and the Winter Paralympics are act by Shuey Ron Ron, an anthropomorphic traditional Chinese lantern. The Beijing Organizing Committee owns the trademark rights for both mascots, created cheerily and endearingly typical of Chinese art intended for children. They also own the rights to the distinctive design of the torch used at the Beijing Olympics. The IOC has yet to confirm if the mascot or torch designs have been present with a licence for exclusive usage. Yet, considering the Beijing Organizing Committee. It would be surprising if omitted Bing Dwen Dwen and Shuey Ron Ron, given that the organisation in charge of the event has authorised almost all other logos for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
On September 30, 2021, CNIPA Director Shen Changyu declared that the organisation would vigorously prosecute any unauthorised use of Olympic-related intellectual property. Shen didn’t mean to imply that these efforts would be little to logos and catchphrases specifically associated with the 2022 Games. The CNIPA turned down 109 requests for trademarks this month that contained the names of renowned Chinese Olympic gold medalists, including Yang Qian, Quan Hongchan, and Chen Meng.
The national IP agency noted its efforts to raise public awareness of the necessity of safeguarding the intellectual property associated with the 2022 Olympics under Chinese trademark law, advertisement law, and regulations on the protection of Olympic symbols. Zhang Zhichang, the chief of CNIPA’s intellectual property protection division, recently announced that businesses selling goods related to the Olympics would be subject to stringent examination.
Infringers “will be severely punished,” Zhang promised.
It can be quite profitable for all parties to sponsor the IOC or one of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and get access to their trademarks in this way.
For instance, consider the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Since it lacks government funding, like most NOCs, it must generate income through IP licencing. Businesses that would be appropriate sponsors for the IOC or a national team should work out a deal.
Any business that isn’t a sponsor, though, needs to exercise caution. Using “Olympic” as part of a company name is only acceptable if none of the Games’ logos is further or if the term is second-hand as a suitable geographic reference, such as in Washington state.
Additionally, Chinese law expressly forbids “ambush marketing,” which refers to unplanned social media, TV, or on-site advertising alongside important athletic events to attract publicity without formal sponsorship. It is a house under the Anti-Unfair Competition Law and the Regulation on the Protection of Olympic Symbols. Of course, the IOC outlaws ambush marketing in the Olympic Charter, which is not unexpected given that ambush marketing operations have frequently targeted the Olympics. It can be challenging for the IOC to tool its Charter without support from host nation IP and competition laws, but the organisation enjoys this advantage for the 2022 Olympics.
As we have done here, mentioning the Olympics just as a topic of criticism without making any claims of commercial affiliation with the event is acceptable. But, if we had used any logos to advertise our organisation, that would have immediately become an infringement. This subject provides yet another illustration of how vital specificity is to IP law, and at IP Docketers, we take correctness very seriously.