It’s the season of great sporting events, with the Super Bowl and Olympics just around the corner, and with that comes a host of new advertising campaigns.  Companies should beware of infringing on Super Bowl and Olympic trademarks, however.  Both of these events have well-known trademarks that have extensive legal protection.

The National Football League owns trademark rights in the names and logos of all of the member teams as well as the word Super Bowl and related logos.

A number of attempts have been made to register trademarks that use the term “Super Bowl,” all of which have failed:

  • Super Bowl of Motorcross
  • Super Bowl of Poker
  • Sooper Bowl of Comedy

The First Amendment protects certain “nominative fair use,” in which trademarks may be used if they describe a phrase and lack commercial intent.  Businesses can also be creative in referring to the event without using or infringing trademarks.

The Olympics trademarks are protected not only by usual trademark laws but their own statutes, which have harsh liability standards and strict penalties.  In the U.S., the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, 36 U.S.C. § 220501 et seq., gives the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) exclusive control over the following terms and symbols:

  • The Olympic symbol (the five rings)
  • “Olympic”
  • “Olympiad”
  • “Citius. Altius. Forius.” (“Swifter. Higher. Stronger.”)

The statute grants USOC the power to protect Olympic trademarks against commercial use.  A number of cease and desist letters were sent out during the 2012 Olympics, including one to a website, “Ravelry,” a social networking site for knitters, over the website’s use of the term “Ravelympics.”