July 25, 2016 | Maddalena Rinaldi

With the 2016 Rio Olympic Games set to begin next month, intellectual property protection with brands not officially affiliated with the Olympics and their sponsorship agreements with athletes have been thrust into the spotlight.


The IOC previously had a rule (rule 40 of the Olympic Charter) that non-official Olympic sponsors could not advertise using athletes that they have sponsorship deals with during the Games. This also extended for approximately two weeks before and after the event. This rule was altered slightly last year to allow such brands to include these athletes in their advertising as long as none of the Olympics’ extensive IP was included, such as images of the five Olympic rings or explicit mention of the Rio Games.


Recently, the United States Olympic Committee has issued warnings to a myriad of these brands, such as sportswear brand Oiselle, stating that “Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”


It has been legal in the US to trademark hashtags since 2013, although there is some controversy over whether the USOC is correct in stating that the law can be applied in this way to the Olympic Games’ IP. Non-official Olympic sponsors, partners or any other third parties are generally restricted in their use of any Olympic Games IP only for uses related to: journalistic purposes, communicating opinions with no commercial purpose, or for educational or general debate and discussion purposes.


Given the highly significant amount of media attention attracted by the Olympic Games, it’s tempting for brands to try to capitalize on such a significant opportunity. However, brands without official Olympics Games affiliation clearly need to be careful about any use or mention of IP associated with the Olympics.

Article written by Emma Cameron