London Out to Ambush the Ambushers

When 36 young Dutch women turned up at the Holland v Denmark world cup group match sporting orange mini-dresses distributed by brewers Bavaria, there was some concern with the strict approach taken by FIFA, footballs governing body, in ejecting these ladies from the ground and even arresting two of them on charges of organising "unlawful commercial activities".Some regarded the approach as heavy-handed but FIFA argued that Bavarias actions constituted what has come to be known as "ambush marketing"-where companies not willing to pay the huge sums demanded to become an official sponsor of a sporting event, associate themselves with the event in some way in order to cash in-and moved swiftly to protect Budweiser, the official beer of the finals.For the record, the two ladies arrested were later released without charge by a South African court.Given that London is due to host the Olympics, the largest sporting event of them all in 2012, there has been a great deal of debate as to how London will deal with similar issues, should they arise in two years time.Various "Olympic" terms are already registered trademarks and the UK of course already has complex and comprehensive intellectual property laws to protect copyrights, trade marks and the like. However, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 created the "London Olympic Association Right" (LOAR) as well as preventing unauthorised association with the Games.The LOAR gives far wider protection to official sponsors as it will apply where there is any (unauthorised) association with the London Olympics in the course of trade. Whether such association exists will be determined by the overall impression of the representation.It also creates two lists of prohibited expressions-lists A and B. Companies will be caught if they use any two words from list A ("Games", "Two thousand and twelve", "2012" or "Twenty Twelve") or any one word from list A with one or more words from list B ("London", "Medals", "Sponsor", "Gold", "Silver" or "Bronze").The penalties are tough too: Any company deemed to have infringed could face a criminal fine of up to £20,000 and there are also potential civil sanctions such as injunctions, damages and delivery up of goods.There is a potential impact on small and medium businesses (SMEs) who cannot afford the sums demanded for official sponsorship but who want to use the Olympics coming to these shores to promote their business. These businesses in particular should be seeking advice even at this stage about what they are planning to do and how these actions may be viewed by the Olympic organising committee.
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