London firms stumble over trademark hurdles

LONDON Fri Jun 1, 2012 7:45am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - Martyn Routledge first noticed businesses springing up in east London near the Olympic Park with the name "Olympic" on their shopfront 18 months ago during his daily bike ride to work.

First it was a furniture store, then a kebab takeaway, then it extended to hairdressers, garages and cafes.

"I looked around and saw more and more cropping up," Routledge, a creative director at design company Open Agency, told Reuters.

Then some of the names began to disappear, or the letter "O" was dropped or covered up.

The Olympic police had begun spotting the names too.

Businesses hoping for some Olympic glamour to rub off on them have found themselves in breach of strict copyright laws imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and enforced by the London organising committee (LOCOG).

The word "Olympic" and the rings logo are among the most recognisable trademarks in the world - and the most heavily protected.

The managing director of the "Olympic Internet Cafe", within walking distance of the main stadium, says he has received two visits from authorities telling him to change the name despite having it above the entrance for more than 10 years.

Only those names that pre-date 1995, well before London won its bid in 2005, are exempt.

"My son is a sportsman and he said 'Olympics' was a good name," said Ahsan Malik, whose tweed jacket and clipped moustache contrasted with the drab decor of the place.

"I am suffering as a business ... I don't want to change.

"The name is established and it's in the telephone directory."

Laws have also been put in place to protect sponsors from ambush marketing, companies that try to associate their products or services with the Olympics without paying for the privilege.

Terms such as Games and 2012 cannot be combined with London, summer, bronze, silver or gold in adverts or on goods; and certain images cannot be used, such as an Olympic-style flame.

Advertising within about 300 metres of stadiums will be policed during the Games, which start on July 27.

Ever more sophisticated ambush marketing, or piggy-backing, by larger companies at international sports events - such as a brewery company giving fans orange lederhosen at the 2006 soccer World Cup in Germany - has put authorities on heightened alert.

LOCOG argues the laws are needed to protect sponsors' interests otherwise taxpayers would have to pick up the tab, beyond the 9.3 billion pounds already forked out.

Hundreds of infringements have already been recorded.

The 11 international companies who sponsor the Olympics have paid nearly $1 billion for the chance to have their brand associated with the Games and the Olympic rings for a four-year cycle which covers one winter and one summer Games.

A further 700 million pounds has been paid by 44 domestic sponsors to help LOCOG meet its 2 billion pounds bill to put on the Games.

STRICT RULES

Professor Simon Chadwick of Coventry University Business School said there is nothing stopping local firms chasing business, trying to target tourists, as long as they are careful.

"My advice to businesses is rather than becoming frustrated that they can't use the word Olympic, they just think about other ways in which they can reach out to tourists, visiting officials, to members of the media, commercial partners who will be in town," he said. "They've just got to careful in the wording and imagery they use."

But he fears the rules are so strict small firms may accidentally fall foul of them.

"You can imagine your local newsagent somewhere in Stratford thinking, what a great idea - we could make a handmade poster saying 'Olympic special: buy two cans of Pepsi, get a third can free', but who would fall foul of the law twice (because Coca-Cola is a sponsor)," Chadwick said.

Breaches can result in fines of 20,000 pounds.

London 2012 was billed as a catalyst for the regeneration of the previously run-down area around Stratford, an ethnic hotpot crippled with high unemployment and social deprivation levels.

The Olympic Internet Cafe's managing director said he hoped business would pick-up during the Games, but many local firms fear visitors will bypass their outlets.

"I have not seen anyone come here to have their hair done because we have the name Olympics," said Mary Boadu, who has owned "D-Olympics" hairdressers since 1997.

"Those who turn up for the Games will have had their hair done before they arrive."

Restaurants and shops were predicted most likely to take advantage of the expected extra footfall during the Games.

Formans salmon curer used to be on the site of what became the new main stadium before it was forced to move. It set up its new building just yards away across the waterway with some of the best views of the Olympic Park.

It has built hospitality suites and plans to bring in a few motor boats for guests keen on "VIP socialising".

"I think people have been quite slow to work out what to do, how to do it, and have been afraid of the scary LOCOG rules, but my feeling is that the excitement will happen," said owner Lance Forman.

"A lot of local businesses have seen this thing on their doorstep and they've watched this thing unfold and there is certainly a feeling of 'what have the Olympics done for us?'

"I just don't think life is like that: you can't sit back and expect the thing to arrive and shower you with gold."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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