VANOC plans to trademark "With Glowing Hearts"

On September 25, 2008, VANOC (The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee) held a press conference to announce the new slogan for the XXI Olympic Winter Games and the X Paralympic Winter Games to be held in 2010 in Vancouver and Whistler. VANOC boss John Furlong asserted that the motto is decided with an attempt to “touch the soul of the nation.” VANOC announced its plan to borrow lines from both the English and French version of the Canadian National Anthem by deciding the English motto as “With Glowing Hearts” and the French motto as “Des plus brillants exploits”. While these phrases are a commendable attempt to capture the essence of pride and joy athletes feel on representing their country on a world stage, the further news of VANOC filing of a trademark application for these phrases has drawn a lot of negative attention and criticism.

VANOC has stressed in the press release that it has “no desire to own the phrases ‘With Glowing Hearts’ and ‘Des plus brillants exploits’ and VANOC’s use of the motto in no way changes how these words can be used by Canadians or how Canadians enjoy the national anthem as a whole or the specific phrases”. It emphasized that the trademark application is to guard against “specific, unauthorized commercial association with the 2010 Winter Games.” VANOC has provided a list of hundreds of products, including diesel fuel, laundry bleach, belt buckles, meat extracts, edible fats and beer that will be covered by the trademark.

Although VANOC’s intentions to use the trademark seems limited to those businesses who attempt to create an unauthorized association with the 2010 Olympic games, the Canadian population isn’t naive enough to accept this assertion at face values. Once the trademark is granted, it would simply mean that anyone or any business that uses “With Glowing Hearts” or “Des plus brillants exploits” as their product brands can face a potential lawsuit. There is nothing to stop VANOC from licensing the phrases to companies in the future. The issue is aggravated since Canadians have grown to consider the National Anthem as a public domain item, and now its commercial use does seem questionable, since such granting of protection to generic words and phrases may encroach on freedom of speech.

While, on one hand, Howard Knopf, an intellectual property lawyer with Moffat & Co., Macera & Jarzyna in Ottawa, concurs that VANOC is not seeking to monopolize the phrases, Michael Geist, on the other hand, believes that if the trademark is granted, it will be “yet another example of intellectual property run amuck”. ( ). Although while most athletes believe that the phrases are about “commitment, passion and dedication”, it is just a matter of time before the bona fide, or lack thereof, intentions of VANOC to trademark the phrases become evident.