Many of us have been enjoying the winter Olympics in PyeongChang. If your home is like mine, the television runs in the background every night, keeping us updated on our favorite athletes and their quest for medals.
Did you know that the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) has intellectual property (IP) rights in many of the images, logos, words and phrases associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Games? In fact, the USOC is so serious about its IP that it has a webpage dedicated to its brand usage guidelines - https://www.teamusa.org/brand-usage-guidelines.
When many people think about IP, they think about corporate profits and monopolies. However, the stated mission of the International Olympic Committee is to “not only ensure the celebration of the Olympic Games, but to also encourage the regular practice of sport by all people in society, regardless of sex, age, social background or economic status.”
So, why would the USOC claim exclusive rights to these images and logos, if the spirit of the Olympics is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world through sport? The answer is funding.
The USOC oversees amateur athletics in the United States and is responsible for overseeing training, funding and sending Team USA to the Olympic and Paralympic Games every two years. Unlike other national Olympic committees around the world, the USOC does not receive government funding to support these activities. So, it seeks official corporate sponsors to fund its programs. In return for sponsoring the Olympic Games, an official sponsor can use USOC trademarks in its media and advertising.
The Olympics generate a lot of excitement, as we cheer for Team USA, learn interesting facts about the athletes, and celebrate medal winners. There is much media hype before and during the actual Games. Advertising in connection with the Olympics is valuable, and the list of official sponsors includes many venerable global companies. You have probably spotted logos on athletes’ apparel and maybe memorized some of the commercials featuring official sponsors.
The USOC has identified its valuable IP and controls who can and cannot use its trademarks, logos and other rights. If you want to use any of its trademarks, you must seek permission (and pay the appropriate fees) to the USOC. If the USOC did not tightly control who could use its trademarks, the value of sponsorship would be significantly reduced. This would ultimately diminish the ability of the USOC to raise money for Team USA.
What are some of the USOC trademarks? Many of the logos and images are set forth on the brand usage guidelines website noted above, and include the Olympic rings in combination with the US Flag and other images and phrases from current and future host countries. In addition, the USOC owns trademarks on the following terms:
And many more.
This is a great example of how an organization can identify, organize and utilize its IP rights (and in particular, trademark) to generate operational funds. What could your company take from this example?
Author’s note: Weaver Legal and Consulting LLC has no official connection or sponsorship arrangement with the Olympics or the USOC.
Karrie Weaver practices intellectual property, trademark, and patent law. Additionally, she assists nonprofits with their charitable organization and 501(c)(3) status.