On June 11, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) hosted a live event giving attendees a behind-the-scenes look at intellectual property (IP) protection at the world’s largest sporting event: the Olympic Games.
Hosted by David Gooder, commissioner for trademarks at the USPTO, “Trademarks and the Games: A fireside chat about intellectual property and the Olympics” featured an in-depth interview with Dana Jozefczyk, associate general counsel for intellectual property with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
Jozefczyk, who grew up playing sports and watching the Olympic Games every two years with her family, joined the USOPC in 2019 after working at Merchant & Gould P.C., a law firm out of Minneapolis, Minnesota specializing in IP.
Because the USOPC is a nonprofit organization that does not receive support from taxpayer dollars or government assistance, it relies entirely on fundraising, sponsorship and licensing revenue to sustain itself and support its U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. For this reason, enforcing its IP is particularly important.
Protecting the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Brands
Signed by President Jimmy Carter, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 gave the USOPC exclusive rights to certain IP and the right to use various terms commercially within the United States. A few of those include “Olympic,” “Paralympic,” “Paralympiad,” “Olympiad,” “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Latin for faster, higher, stronger), “Pan American” and “Parapan American.” Additionally, the USOPC has exclusive rights to the national use of iconic symbols including the Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos.
Protecting these terms and symbols from unauthorized use maintains their value and enables the USOPC to remain self-sustaining. Because 83% of the organization’s budget is “directly spent on programs and activities that support athletes,” enforcing and protecting its IP allows the organization to continue this central part of its mission.
“To me, the way that you enforce a brand is really that you’re protecting the goodwill associated with the mark,” Jozefczyk said. “From one perspective, you don’t want a third party to affiliate itself with your brand in a way that you don’t authorize — in a way that could cause your company harm. On the other hand, you also don’t want third parties to commercialize your brand, and the fact that we have sponsor considerations just fills kind of nicely into that niche at the USOPC.”
According to Jozefczyk, often, people’s hearts are in the right place. In many instances, fans of the Olympics reach out and ask if their town can throw an Olympic-themed event and sell Olympics shirts. Instances like this one give her the opportunity to explain that the USOPC is funded in part thanks to the partnerships and licensing deals that it signs with other businesses. It’s for this reason that unauthorized use of protected Olympic-related terminology and symbols is not allowed.
“A lot of people, once they hear the reasoning behind the ‘no,’ are very quick to say ‘OK, I had no idea — thanks for letting me know.’”
Watch the Entire Fireside Chat and Learn More About IP
To enjoy the full conversation between Gooder and Jozefczyk, we invite you to visit the USPTO website.
Interested in learning more about IP? Check out our blog!