November 2, 2008 by Serena Curry
In a recent article for the Globe and Mail entitled “Sticking to official Olympic brands – with duct tape”, Rod Mickleburgh discusses the various procedures “commercial rights management” officials will be taking during the upcoming Vancouver Olympic games in light of the practices which were enforced this past summer in Beijing. One of these customs which is particularly of interest is that of placing duct tape over any visible brand that does not belong to a commercial sponsor. This comment will outline why this practice is not supported by anything in the Trademark Act and furthermore, why it goes against the Olympic spirit of healthy competition in general.
Interestingly, the danger of counterfeit goods being sold, an act which clearly contravenes Section 6 of the Trademarks Act here in Canada, is not of much concern. The main offence which this article addresses is the dreaded and dangerous “unauthorized commercial messaging” in order to prevent what is referred to as “ambush marketing”. These terms refer to a company who wishes to be associated with the Olympic games without having paid for the honor. At first glance, this appears to be a valid concern. The right to place one’s logo in prominent places during the games is a commercial right which must be paid for. It would be unfair practice (not to mention pandemonium) to allow advertisements to take over without some form of control. There is also the concern that which products are associated with the Olympic Games is a choice which must be made by the corresponding officials.
However, the article veers away from these understandable concerns and describes the practice of officials covering any type of logo which has not been paid for and is visible with duct tape. In my opinion, this is taking the matter too far. There is nothing supported by intellectual property law (to my knowledge) that stipulates that no other products can be used in the same vicinity. That would be a matter to be contractually supplied for through negotiation. The article specifically mentions a security system which did not belong to official sponsor Panasonic being covered in tape. This begs the question – if Panasonic is the official sponsor, why haven’t they supplied the security system? It seems ironic to me that the company name would be covering the venue, yet the actual equipment that is being trusted to maintain the security system would belong to another company. Furthermore, why shouldn’t the company whose product is being used get credit for it? In a way, they too have paid for the mention, due to the fact that their product is seen as the most effective way to protect the athletes!
In a less concrete example, the organizers also took to covering tee-shirts, computer logos and any hint of trademark which had not been paid in full from all Olympic events. I’m all for big business, but in the spirit of healthy competition, this duct tape fiasco seems to be taking it too far.