Flag on the Play: Penalties for Unlicensed Trademark Use

NFL logo on field is trademark protected intellectual property

Many businesses use references to current events in their advertising, promotions, and social media to keep advertisements timely and better connect with audiences. Once such upcoming opportunity is Team USA’s participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Another, which businesses take advantage of every year, is the National Football League’s (NFL) “Big Game”: the Super Bowl. However, businesses should tread carefully when trying to evoke either of these events in their marketing.

Small Business and the Super Bowl

The NFL, which received a trademark registration for the term “Super Bowl” in 1969, is aggressive when policing its beloved trademark. Only entities with licensed use of the trademark are permitted to use the term “Super Bowl” in their marketing. The NFL will go after small businesses for unauthorized commercial use, even once having gone after a church group for charging a $3 admission to a viewing party.

Unauthorized businesses can expect a cease and desist letter threatening a lawsuit, as well as the infringing material potentially being removed by social media platforms via takedown notifications. Some consider the NFL’s hypervigilant policing to be overly aggressive. However, authorized licensees pay millions of dollars to be an authorized user of the trademark. If the NFL did not police the use of their Super Bowl trademark so aggressively, the value of its registered trademark would eventually decrease.

Olympic Advertising

As for the Olympics, Congress has specifically granted the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) very broad trademark rights to authorize the use of any trademark, symbol, insignia, or emblem of the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee or the USOPC. This includes use of the familiar 5 interlocking rings symbol and the words “Olympic” or “Olympiad.”

Under this statute, the USOPC may file a civil action against any person who, without the USOPC’s consent, uses its trademarks for commercial use or against anyone who suggests a false association with USOPC or the other listed organizations. Because the USOC receives no government funding, it relies on sponsors to support its programs. Therefore, only official partners and licensees are permitted to use USOPC trademarks commercially in recognition of their support.

To learn more about what Team USA permits and doesn’t in regard to trademarks and other intellectual properties, read its brand usage guidelines.

Pittsburgh Intellectual Property Attorneys

Kathleen Kuznicki is a registered patent attorney and intellectual property attorney at The Lynch Law Group. For assistance with your own intellectual property matters, contact her at kkuznicki@lynchlaw-group.com, or by phone at 724.776.8000.

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