By Isabelle Deshaies

The 2010 Vancouver winter Olympic Games are an exceptional event. The athletes, their supporters and media from around the world will travel thousands of miles to be part of this sport celebration. Some will visit the city, the country and bring back souvenirs. The city of Vancouver will be swept by the Olympic fever, and many merchants will profit from this opportunity to increase their sales.

During such an event, there is a commercial interest to associate one's goods, services and business name with the Olympics to indicate affiliation to the host city or country. However, here's to cool this enthusiasm: unofficial sponsors of the Olympic Games will be forbidden from making such a link in a commercial purpose, or they will be accused of ambush marketing.

Any unofficial use of Olympic identity or similar image will be prevented and subject to specific legal rules. The Olympic and Paralympic marks are the exclusive properties of Canadian and international Olympic committees and bodies. The Olympic entities have the exclusive right to use the words, symbols, pictograms, a associated to the Games or to give license of use to third parties, including official sponsors. It is to be noted that a big portion of the sponsorship is invested to the Olympic foundation.

The Olympic and Paralympic marks are already protected as “official marks” under the trademarks act, which foresees a mechanism of protection and legal suits in case of violation, passing-off and false representation. But it was incumbent upon Canada to adopt, in addition, a specific act to protect sponsors. The International Olympic Committee has imposed this obligation on hosting countries since 2000.

A special act for the Olympics
The main purpose is commercial. It aims at giving official sponsors exclusivity to use the Olympic marks. As they pay huge amounts of money to display their own marks during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it would be inequitable that third parties benefit identically from the same event, without paying the rights. This legislation was enacted on December 17, 2007, and will come to an end on December 31st, 2010, although certain dispositions will remain.

The interest of this act resides in its particularly fast mechanism to stop any unauthorized use and in its flexibility in the appreciation of confusion. Indeed, infringing marks won't have to be identical to the official marks; it will suffice that they are likely to cause confusion.

Evidence of damages, usually required to stop the use of unauthorized marks, will not be required in these circumstances and it will be easier and faster to obtain remedies. Among these, the retention and disposal of imported goods and of goods ready for exportation, the payment of damages and the repayment of profits. The rapidity of the hearing and of the granting of the remedy is one of corner stones of the act, in order to allow quick reactions during the Olympic Games.

The last, but not the least, element of interest of this act is its federal jurisdiction. Thus it is applicable everywhere in Canada. That is to say, a merchant in Ontario or Quebec is subject to the same pursuits as a company located in the host city of Vancouver if it violates this act.

If you have doubts about the legitimate use of your trademark, do not hesitate to contact the undersigned trademark agent.

This article was written for the Canadian Opportunites Magazine, February - March 2009

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