What’s in an Olympic Trademark?

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, the official logo seemed to be everywhere, from the corner of television broadcasts to the back of the gold medals. The Comité International Olympique, aka the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is a non-profit organization based in Lausanne, Switzerland that organizes the Summer, Winter, Paralympic, and Youth Olympic Games. Each member country has their own national committee which helps organize the games and hosting bids. Unlike most countries, the US government does not fund the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). The USOC relies on donations, sponsorships, merchandise sales, and intellectual property licensing – such as television broadcast rights and trademarks.

The National Olympic Committee of the host country creates the logo for the Olympics which the IOC owns. The IOC registered the 2018 Winter Olympics mark in Switzerland and the USOC owns the US registrations. It may seem unfair that the city of PyeongChang does not own the trademark, however the IOC and national committees rely on the money generated from trademark licensing and this system creates international uniformity. Cities will apply a decade or more in advance to host the Olympic games. First the city’s bid must be approved by the national committee, then the IOC considers the applicant cities. Once a city is finalized as an “Applicant City,” IOC files for a trademark of the city’s name and year of the games. If a city is chosen as a Candidate City then it may add the IOC six ring trademark to their logo. If a city is not chosen, the IOC either cancels or lets the city’s trademark application abandon.

Timeline for 2018 Winter Olympics Trademark:

  • October 2009: PyeongChang submitted their third bid to the host the Winter Olympics.
  • January 2010: South Korea’s bid committee unveiled the application logo.
  • March 15, 2010: Applications due to IOC. Only 3 cities applied.
  • March 23, 2010: USOC files trademark applications for Munich 2018, PyeongChang 2018, and Annecy 2018.
  • June 2010: PyeongChang, Munich, and Annecy were chosen as the Candidate Cities. The Olympic 6 ring mark was added to their logos.
  • June 2011: IOC chose PyeongChang to host the 2018 Olympics.
  • May 3, 2013: The official logo for 2018 Winter Olympics was revealed.
  • May 22, 2013: USOC filed for the US trademark of the official PeyongChang logo.

A lot of planning is required for successful Olympic Games and securing the rights for the Olympic Games branding is critical to how the IOC makes money. This means the IOC has canceled a lot of trademark applications of cities that were not chosen as Olympic hosts.

The next Winter Olympics will occur in 2022 in Beijing. The IOC applied for five trademarks based on applications:

  • BEIJING 2022
  • ALMATY 2022
  • OSLO 2022
  • LVIV 2022
  • KRAKOW 2022

The IOC chose Oslo (Norway), Almaty (Kazakhstan), and Beijing (China) as the three candidate cities. Norway ended up withdrawing their application and IOC chose Beijing. Currently the IOC/USOC have registered trademarks for Beijing. It is likely that the logo will change, however since they have registered the design mark the application logo may be the official logo.

The upcoming Summer Olympics in 2020 will be held in Tokyo. The applicant cities included Istanbul, Tokyo, Baku, Doha, and Madrid. The IOC applied for the following wordmarks in the US related to the 2020 Games:

  • BRASOV 2020
  • LAUSANNE 2020
  • TOKYO 2020
  • MADRID 2020
  • ISTANBUL 2020

Interestingly, the IOC did not oppose the application of AUSTIN 2020. Austin, Texas, was interested in hosting the Olympic Team Trials and the Austin 2020 Exploratory Committee successfully registered the mark. However, it is now abandoned from lack of use in commerce as Austin was not chosen. Also, the IOC did not apply for Baku or Doha. Baku is the capital of  Azerbaijan and has bid every cycle for the Olympics since 2016 and has continually lost their bids. The IOC’s lack of applications for Azerbaijan and Qatar cities may show the Committee’s lack of confidence in these countries’ abilities to host Olympic Games.
The two candidates for the next Summer Olympics were Los Angeles and Paris. The IOC picked Paris for 2024 and LA for 2028. The Los Angeles application logo for 2024 was very minimalistic and their Candidate City logo may be the actual logo. When Los Angeles was still an applicant city the IOC applied for a trademark for LA 2024 (SN 86746929) and LA 24 (SN 86746945). Both marks were opposed by L.A. Gear, Inc. for likelihood of confusion with their mark “LA” and “L.A.” for footwear (US Reg. 3844628). Ultimately, the IOC agreed to delete “footwear” from the list of goods to which L.A. Gear agreed. Since LA was not chosen for 2024, the applications has since abandoned. When the IOC applies for a trademark for LA 2028 they will likely not apply for “footwear” to avoid another opposition from L.A. Gear.

For the 2026 Olympic Winter Games few countries applied. According to The New York Times, it was the IOC that reached out to the Canadian city of Calgary to see if they would host and not the other way around. The decrease in excitement to host the games likely correlates with the increasing cost of hosting such large events. Every Olympic Game since the 1960s has exceeded its budget. If anyone will be able to come under-budget on an Olympic game, it will be the Canadians. The first reveal of the  Winter Games logo will come from a trademark filing next year.

 

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Kate Montgomery is a graduate from Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Kate previously attended the University of Arizona where she earned her undergraduate degree in Spanish and Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law (PPEL). When Kate is not studying or working, she enjoys trivia nights, making costumes, and visiting with friends and family.