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Brand Protection and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Olympic
  • Jul 20, 2021
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After a COVID-induced “false start” last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese Government have now resolved to proceed with the “2020” Tokyo Olympic Games commencing this week.  Following recent reports that Tokyo is experiencing its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in six months, the relevant governing authorities have decreed that all sporting events in the host city will take place without spectators.   

Given the various levels of COVID-19 “lockdown” restrictions currently in place around the world, the number of viewers watching the Tokyo Olympic Games is expected to rise into the billions.  Given the power of their Olympic brand (and associated value in corresponding commercial sponsorships), the IOC is well known for vigorously defending their rights in relation to any unauthorised use, particularly those involving so called “ambush marketing”.

Olympic levels of protection

The Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee have helpfully issued Brand Protection Guidelines about who may use the relevant properties and the context of acceptable use – see gtimg.tokyo2020.org/image/upload/production/eryzza4bg3fzqtd7g9ox.pdf. This document confirms the intellectual property and images associated with the Olympic (and Paralympic) Games are protected by the Japanese Trademark Act, the Unfair Competition Prevention Act, the Copyright Act, and other laws in Japan.

Beyond the protection afforded to the Olympic properties by this Japanese legislation, there are numerous other laws and treaties in place to prevent unauthorised use of these properties.  For example, the Nairobi Treaty (of which Australia is not currently a signatory) requires party states to protect the “Olympic rings” symbol against commercial use unless it has been authorised by the IOC. 

Further, it has now become commonplace (since the 1976 Montreal Olympics) for individual countries to pass permanent national legislation to protect the Olympic properties, particularly in countries which are hosting the games.  In Australia, the relevant legislation protecting these Olympic properties is the Olympic Insignia Protection Act 1987 which defines terms such as OLYMPICS and OLYMPIC GAMES as “Protected Olympic Expressions”.  Apart from these protections, the IOC also seeks to register trade marks properties to protect the various editions, such as LONDON 2012, RIO 2016, TOKYO 2020 (even TOKYO 2021!) and associated logos, design elements and mascots.

Let the Games begin!

The Olympic Games are undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous brands. To ensure the Olympic brand maintains its premium status, the IOC carefully selects its partners and exerts full control over who broadcasts the events and how its brands are marketed. 

The IOC is primed to enforce its legal rights (where necessary) to prevent unauthorised use, often employing technology to track and take down unauthorised content particularly in relation to social media and ambush marketing.  The IOC’s proactive approach toward brand protection of the Olympic image has provided it with unmatched control and helped to prevent brand dilution.

Authored by Nathan Sinclair and Sean McManis