Just whose Olympics are they, anyway?
Jason Bausher didn't expect a legal fight when he put together a little travel guide to his favorite places on the rugged Olympic Peninsula...
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Jason Bausher didn't expect a legal fight when he put together a little travel guide to his favorite places on the rugged Olympic Peninsula.
Intellectual-property lawyers at the U.S. Olympic Committee had other ideas.
Worried that his "Best of the Olympic Peninsula" might tread on the committee's valuable trademarks, the USOC pushed the part-time park ranger to drop his request for a trademark.
A few years back, the squabble might have ended there, with Bausher adding a simple disclaimer and going on to peddle his book at local tourist shops.
But thanks to the Internet, Bausher's $12 booklet was suddenly reaching the world — showing once again how technology has allowed even the smallest business to blow past old notions of commerce and law.
"It is amazing how the Web has empowered laypeople," said Bob Jarvis, author of a book on sports law. "But it has also given them all kinds of opportunities to get into legal trouble."
The flap started in January, after Bausher sought a federal trademark for "Best of the Olympic Peninsula."
His application caught the attention of lawyers at the USOC, the Colorado-based organization set up by Congress to oversee the country's Olympic Games efforts.
Since it owns a near-exclusive U.S. franchise to all things Olympic, the USOC sent Bausher a cordial but stern letter, warning he could face a lawsuit unless the trademark application was withdrawn.
Bausher basically ignored the first one, thinking it was just a form mailer sent to anyone with the word "Olympic" in their business name.
After all, he figured, "Olympic" is attached to a seemingly endless stream of goods and services around here — not to mention Mount Olympus, the Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest, and the state capital, Olympia.
"It's everywhere," Bausher said. "And for any organization to say ... 'You need to sign a form and then we will 'allow' you or 'permit' you to use that word, seems sort of ridiculous."
The USOC's trademark rights, however, are very serious.
Unlike most of its counterparts around the world, America's Olympic sponsorship organization doesn't benefit from any direct government spending, spokesman Darryl Seibel said.
Instead, the USOC gets extraordinary control over the term "Olympic" and any related imagery, a right granted by federal lawmakers in the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1978.
Those rights are big business for the USOC, which generates about half of its revenue from corporate sponsorship and licensing, Seibel said — about $60 million annually.
"Congress wanted to make sure that USOC would have a way to fund their activities. So they basically took the word Olympic out of the English language and gave it to USOC," said Jarvis, who teaches sports law at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Since then, the USOC has gained a reputation for aggressively defending its intellectual property. The landmark case came in 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that organizers in San Francisco couldn't call their amateur sporting event the "Gay Olympics."
"It's our lifeblood," Seibel said. "And we have to make sure that the value of those marks and terms remains high. We have a responsibility to our sponsors and also to our athletes."
But there's an exception. Lawmakers carved out a small opening for businesses that, like Bausher's "Best of the Olympic Peninsula," referred to a geographic region instead of an athletic competition.
To qualify, they also have to operate "in the state of Washington west of the Cascade Mountain Range," with no substantial presence outside the region.
Of course, that language was written before the Internet gave anyone's cottage industry the potential to tap international markets.
"He's marketing to the world," Jarvis said. "The problem is that the statute is a 1978 statute. And this is one of those many, many instances where the law has not caught up."
For now, the mountain guide and the Olympic guardians remain at a stalemate. Their last conversation, Bausher says, ended with veiled references to possible legal action.
Bausher, an Eagle Scout and former Ivy Leaguer who lives in a 10-by-12 trailer on the peninsula, says he's got too many student-loan bills and too little income to afford a lawyer.
He'd rather see the USOC seize on the Olympic similarities, perhaps by sending athletes up the 7,965-foot peak of Mount Olympus — especially with the 2010 Winter Games just across the border in British Columbia.
"I would think that they would recognize, at some point, that they have more to lose in public goodwill than they have to gain by 'clearing the books' of this name," he said.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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