The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) moved forward with two trademark infringement complaints against Discount Tires on Jan. 8 and Quiksilver, Inc. on Jan. 23. Both complaints were filed in a Federal Court in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The USOC alleged unauthorized usage of Olympic imagery in the Discount Tires complaint when a Discount Tire’s billboard was positioned on one of Salt Lake City’s primary highways, Interstate 15, suggesting a sponsor partnership with the USOC and the Olympic Games. The billboard showcased tires in the form of the Olympic Rings and used several different languages implying intent to use Olympic terminology and signifying a commercial partnership with the USOC, according to the complaint. The second complaint lodged against Quiksilver, Inc., alleges the unauthorized use of the Olympic rings on merchandise such as clothing, pins, and key chains, all of which were being sold in Quiksilver, Inc. stores in Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah.
The ground rules for a successful trademark infringement claim have been well-established under both federal and state case law. A plaintiff in a trademark case has the burden of establishing the defendant’s use of a mark that has created a probability of confusion regarding the origin of the defendant’s goods or services. The steps that are required to do this are necessary for the plaintiff to first show that there has been a developed protected trademark right in their trademark. The plaintiff must then show that the defendant is using a confusingly similar mark in such a manner that it creates a probability of confusion, mistake and/or deception for the consuming public. Confusion can be created when the defendant’s products are the same as that of the plaintiff, or when the defendant shows some connection to the Plaintiff.
For the USOC, which has had hundreds of acts of infringements, it is more than someone showing an affiliation or connection to the Olympic Committee. The Olympic marks are the lifeblood of support for future Olympians and their activities. If a consumer is swayed to purchase an item with an unauthorized Olympic mark, it pushes monetary support away from United States athletes.
“We view our fundamental mission as achieving excellence in athletic competitions and also winning the hearts and minds of every day living. Our trademark rights and our corporate sponsorship programs enable us to achieve these goals,” said Jeff Benz, General Counsel for the USOC. “The act of infringement is seen as diverting money from official Olympic merchandize fielding the best Olympic teams.”
The USOC attempts to resolve all cases of infringement informally, however, they are forced to take legal action to protect their “intellectual property rights” when companies ignore them.