Oct 7, 2016 - Blog by |

As a franchisee, you no doubt appreciate the value that a strong brand can bring to the table. In fact, brand recognition is one of the top reasons why many people choose to buy a franchise instead of starting an independent business.

With approximately 27.5 million viewers having tuned in daily to watch the 2016 Rio Olympics on U.S. broadcast television and online streaming, you may be thinking about cashing in on the Olympics’ brand value in 2020. But, the question is, can you?

The Olympic Trademarks

Like other famous brands – including NFL, Super Bowl, NCAA, Final Four – “Olympic” is a registered trademark. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) owns the registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and this means that using “Olympic” (or any confusingly-similar trademark) for commercial purposes requires a license from the USOC. Like other major sports organizations and other famous brand owners, the USOC makes money (lots of money) from licensing its trademark, and as a result it has been known to vigorously pursue businesses that attempt to benefit from associating themselves with the Olympics without acquiring a license.

What about the Olympic rings? As you might have guessed, those are protected, too. A trademark can be a word or symbol (or a combination of both), and using the Olympic rings in your business without authorization could also very well lead to the USOC sending a cease-and-desist letter.

In fact, not only are the Olympic trademarks protected by federal registrations, but there is actually a special statute that gives the USOC “the exclusive right to use” and license these trademarks as well.

What if My Franchisor Says It’s Ok?

So, as a franchisee, you generally cannot decide to launch an “Olympics”-themed promotion. But, what if your franchisor says it’s ok? What if your franchisor even uses the system’s advertising fund to develop and distribute “Olympics”-themed materials?

In order to have franchisees utilize an “Olympics”-themed promotion, a franchisor must have a license from the USOC that includes the right to sublicense to its franchisees. Believe it or not, franchisors can make mistakes just like anyone else, and this includes approving advertising materials that should not be approved. As a result, it is worthwhile to check if your franchisor has the necessary license. “My franchisor said it was ok,” isn’t going to hold up as an excuse for violating the USOC’s exclusive rights.

What Other Names Can’t I Use?

Generally speaking, in order to promote any third-party brand, your franchise is going to need a license. Think about it this way: When you pay your monthly royalties, part of what you are paying for is the right to use your franchisor’s brand. Not only doesn’t your franchisor want non-franchisees to use its brand for free, but you don’t want them to use it either. If other people can use the brand for free, then what are you paying for? The same concept applies to other brand-based businesses as well.

We already mentioned a few, but here are some of the other brands that restaurants, gyms and other businesses commonly misuse without a license:

  • Final Four
  • March Madness
  • NCAA
  • NFL
  • Super Bowl
  • World Cup
  • World Series

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If you would like more information about your rights as a franchisee, contact our franchise law firm for a confidential consultation. To speak with national franchise attorney Jeffrey M. Goldstein, please call (202) 293-3947 or submit a request online today.

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