Olympics Report: Tired of Trademarks

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The International Olympic Committee closely guards the use of its trademarks and licenses, and it has trademarked and licensed pretty much everything. In fact, you are no longer allowed to use the word “bribe” without putting a little “TM” after it.

How vigorously do the various Olympics committees defend their properties? On officially licensed merchandise, the three adorable mascots, Copper, Powder and Coal, have “TM” after their names. That’s right, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has copyrighted the words “copper,” “powder” and “coal.” Don’t go around saying these words casually, as you have been, because they belong to SLOC now.

Presumably, this also means you cannot name your child “Copper” without permission. Of course, if you’re in Utah, you would probably spell it “CopPer,” and that might be different enough to avoid a lawsuit. So knock yourself out.

The height of Olympic hypersensitivity came last month, when the U.S. Olympic Committee — the third committee we’ve mentioned so far, if you’re keeping track — filed a lawsuit against Discount Tire Co. because of its billboard that showed five car tires arranged in the same fashion as the Olympic rings. Since Discount Tire has no official connection with the Olympics, it is not allowed to use the Olympics — or, in this case, bring the Olympics to mind — in its advertising.

Which is all well and good, I suppose, and I have no problem with protecting one’s logos and trademarks. What I found amusing, however, is the language of the lawsuit, as reported by the Associated Press.

“Discount Tire’s actions not only deceive the public, but also are irreparably harming the USOC,” the lawsuit said.

So in the USOC’s mind, the intent of the billboard was to make passing motorists think, “Hey, Discount Tire must be affiliated with the United States Olympic Committee! We should spend our money at that tire location, not at one of the non-Olympic-affiliated ones.” Discount Tire didn’t want to sell tires; it wanted to trick people.

In fact, I suspect Discount Tire’s intent was merely to be clever. When I saw the ad, I thought it was cute. I didn’t remember which tire company it was for until I read about the lawsuit.

I also like the “irreparably harming the USOC” part, because it makes me think of some entertaining conversations that would have to take place for that to be true.

“What should we do tonight, honey? Should we go to the Olympics, or should we buy some tires?”

Or:

“I had a bad experience at Discount Tire. So you United States Olympic Committee missionaries, get off my porch!”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go powder™ my nose.

These first two columns were written entirely before the opening ceremonies that officially started the Games, in case you were curious.

A little "TM" appeared next to the title "Snide Remarks" with this column. That was the idea of Noel Nash, our talented Associate Managing Editor over sports who took charge of our daily Olympic section.

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