Oisele is an apparel company based in Seattle that specializes in designing and manufacturing sporting attire. So when Kate Grace, an American athlete, won the U.S. Olympic Trials 800 meter race while wearing Oisele attire, Oisele wanted to show support for both America and Grace. In an Instagram post, the company wrote, “She’s going to Rio!” and “#RoadtoRio” in conjunction with pictures of Grace wearing their product.
While this patriotic support of an American athlete by an American company may otherwise be encouraged, Oisele faced a much different fate. Instead the company received an email from the United States Olympic Committee informing that the Instagram post had violated the USOC trademark guidelines.
So why is the Olympic Committee so concerned about an Instagram post? In a word: money. Under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1998, the USOC received exclusive rights to “Olympic” related marks. The Act also grants the USOC discretion to license and enforce their marks to sponsors of the Olympics. Unbeknownst to Oisele at the time, when the company posted their support of Grace on Instagram, they made an impression that Oisele is a sponsor of the Olympics.
The USOC website states:
Non-Sponsors should make certain that advertising, web sites, promotions, etc. focus on the athlete and his/her achievements rather than on the Olympic or Paralympic Games (“Games”). The USOC will not tolerate ambush marketing by companies that are not Sponsors.
Because Oisele showed pictures of Grace wearing their product in conjunction with trademarked phrases, the USOC had a legitimate allegation of trademark infringement. While this story underscores the fact that free speech, especially commercial speech, is not absolute, it also serves as a reminder that unforeseen consequences can occur from even the most harmless of actions: an otherwise patriotic Instagram post.
If you have any questions about trademark law or other intellectual property concerns, please contact Jacob at Loop Legal PLLC.