Who: The French National Olympic and Sports Committee
When: 17 January 2017
Law stated as at: February 2017
The French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF), the French constituent of the worldwide Olympic movement which is subject to the controls of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is in charge of ensuring the protection of the Olympic motto, anthem and emblem in France. Since 1986, the CNOSF has been the owner in France of the figurative trademark composed of the emblematic five interlaced rings.
During the London Olympic Games of 2012, the CNOSF became aware of the use in France by Frogpubs (a company operating a well-known chain of pubs in France) of the Olympic rings symbol featured alongside a caricature of the UK’s Queen dressed in a sportive outfit and holding a jug of beer. The image was reproduced on coasters and displayed on websites to inform customers that the London Olympic Games were being broadcasted in Frogpubs’ restaurants.
As a result, the CNOSF brought proceedings against Frogpubs and its manager before the French courts on the grounds of trademark infringement. Eventually, the Cour de Cassation (the French Highest Civil Court), further to the previous ruling from the French Court of Appeal, held that the Olympic rings symbol had been used by Frogpubs for commercial purposes in order to attract customers, and not for information purposes, and such use should have been authorised by the CNOSF in exchange for financial compensation.
As a well-known trademark with an outstanding international reputation, this symbol is subject to an extended protection under article L. 713-5 of the French Code of Intellectual Property. This provision sets forth liability for any unauthorised use likely to cause prejudice to the trademark’s owner or which constitutes an unfair use of the trademark, without the proof of a likelihood of confusion being required.
In the present case, Frogpubs was held liable for the economic damage and harm caused to the trademark image, as a result of the use of the Olympic symbol along with the Queen caricature and in association with alcoholic beverage, the parodic or satirical use of the trademark being not relevant since the likelihood of confusion test was non-applicable.
Therefore, the French Courts awarded the CNOSF damages of 10,000 Euros.
Why this matters:
The CNOSF shows great vigilance with respect to unauthorised use of its trademarks. Authorised partnerships for the use of the Olympic marks can amount to hundreds of millions of euros and there are only a limited number of sponsors accredited in order to keep these rights scarce and valuable.
In the past 20 years, unauthorised use of the Olympic marks have given rise to numerous court decisions in France. In particular, the CNOSF has been awarded damages for the use of the words “Olympic sales” or “Olymprice” for promotions, or “Concert of the olympic lodge” as a name of a classical music band.
Beyond the provisions of the French Code of Intellectual Property, a specific and autonomous protection for the CNOSF marks is also implemented in article L.141-5 of the French Code of Sport, which provides that any registration, reproduction or imitation of the National Olympic motto, anthem and emblem, or of the words “Olympic games” or “Olympiad” without the CNOSF authorisation is punishable, as well as trademark counterfeiting, by 4 years of imprisonment and by a fine of up to 400,000 Euros.
Under this specific provision, neither the proof of a likelihood of confusion, nor the proof of a damage caused to the right owner or an unfair use of the trademark, is required.