They were on a mission from the Olympic Trust of Canada. Seemingly, no possible infringement was too obscure. Lawyers for the trust— the fund-raising affiliate of the Canadian Olympic Association (COA)—tracked down some 300 individuals, small businesses and large corporations, filing 52 lawsuits in their attempt to protect more than 200 Olympic Games-related words, symbols and marks reserved under Section 9 of the Canadian Trademarks Act for use by public authorities. But last week federal Sport Minister Otto Jelinek reined in what had come to be known as the trust’s “word police.” Said Jelinek: “I think everyone will agree that they went a little overboard.”
Indeed, one week after the trust withdrew its application for an injunction to stop Maclean’s from publishing a special Olympics issue, the protest over the trust’s protectionist zeal reached the House of Commons. Calling himself the “official Olympics spokesperson” for the NDP, MP Iain Angus (Thunder Bay-Atikokan) asked the House, “What benefit could be derived to the Olympic Games, the organizing committee or to Canada by threatening the Olympic Drywall Company or the Olympic Drilling Company?” Jelinek responded by informing the House that the trust had agreed not to threaten legal action against companies that have been using “Olympic” since before 1980—when the word was protected as an official mark—unless the use creates a direct conflict with an official Olympic sponsor. Said Jelinek: “The
harassment is going to stop and desist.”
Recipients of “cease and desist” letters from the trust included a men’s amateur hockey team in Scarborough, Ont., and a Toronto bicycle shop—for using stick-man logos similar to Olympic symbols. The Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada was forced to drop the stick-person symbol it had used for more than six years. And last month the Federal Court of Canada ruled that Olympic Airways, the national airline of Greece, must provide eight free tickets a year to Greece on the airline—plus four free return flights per year to any of the airline’s other destinations—to the COA in exchange for the right to register the name “Olympic” as the airline’s trademark in Canada.
The Calgary Games organizing committee has sold rights to official marks for over $80 million to more than 50 official sponsors with the consent of the trust. The trust continues to pursue cases in which its marks and symbols are infringed upon and whose “improper” usage would adversely affect its ability to raise funds for the Games and amateur athletics. But the reaction of the owner of Ottawa’s Olympian Dining Lounge typified that of the many recipients of letters from the trust. Said George Pantazopoulos: “They come from Calgary, they call themselves Calgarians. Well, I come from Olympia, so I told them I was calling my place the Olympian and they could go to hell.”
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