Homecoming Committee ironically violates international, federal trademarks

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The Phi Delta Theta fraternity received a rude awakening in late September from the Missouri Western Homecoming Committee— the fraternity had violated policies surrounding Homecoming branding. Using the “MWSU Homecoming” brand, Phi Delta Theta had created Homecoming t-shirts and had begun selling them to students and community members.
However, after hearing of Phi Delta Theta’s shirts, the Homecoming Committee ruled that “MWSU Homecoming” is a brand owned by them alone, and organizations cannot use it on their own material. Phi Delta Theta was prohibited from continuing their shirt sales to individuals outside of the fraternity.
A recent investigation by The Griffon News suggests that while the Homecoming Committee was reprimanding the fraternity for misusing the Homecoming brand, the committee might have been committing an even greater trademark violation.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) have been zealously guarded their trademark five rings and use of the term “Olympic”— to the point of threatening to sue organizations using the five rings and sending a cease-and-desist letter to a knitting group holding a “Knitting Olympics.”
The Homecoming Committee should not be surprised to get one of those letters in the mail.
The Homecoming theme for 2016 is “Griffons Bring Home The Gold” and is “focused on paying tribute to the Olympics.”
And, those five well-known, interlocking rings show up prominently on the back of the Homecoming T-shirts, as does the iconic Olympic torch; their Homecoming events and promotional materials are sprinkled with the words trademarked by the IOC and USOC, with events like “Griffon Olympic Feud;” and the winner of Homecoming will be crowned “Griffon Olympian.”
So, the same Homecoming committee that banned a fraternity from using its branding could be faced with the irony of being banned from using their chosen theme.
The Homecoming Committee has stepped into a gray area, where they have either definitely violated international and federal protections or are at least come scarily close.
When notified about the possibility of violating international and federal trademark laws, Taylor Dowell, one of two Homecoming chairpersons, said simply “We did not break any rules; we did proper procedures by going through Campus Printing.”
The USOC tells a different story.
“When others use USOC trademarks without proper authorization, the exclusivity of the USOC’s brand is threatened,” reads a brand usage guide on the USOC website. “Federal law gives the USOC exclusive right to control the use of USOC trademarks, imagery and terminology in the United States and allows the USOC to file a lawsuit against any entity using USOC trademarks, imagery or terminology for commercial purposes without express written consent.”
Tim Kissock, risk manager for Missouri Western, declined to comment on the possibility of a violation because of the complexity of the law.
In 2016, the Olympic committees decreased the inherent confusion of the laws by altogether disallowing many organizations and businesses from using the words “Olympic,” and “Olympian” as well as phrases like “Going for gold” and “Let the games begin.” And the Olympic committees do not take the misuse of their brand lightly.
In July 2016, Oiselle, a woman’s athletic clothing brand, posted a series of photos and posts about an Olympic athlete they had partially sponsored. After that athlete medaled, Oiselle posted a congratulations to their company Instagram account, posting a photo of their athlete running along with the hashtag “Rio2016.”
A short time later, the Olympic committees sent cease-and-desist letters, requesting that Oiselle take down the posts or threaten a “close of business.”
However, the Homecoming Committee is unlikely to come under fire from either of the Olympic committees.
The Olympic committees cannot monitor all misuses of their brand, so many of the committees’ lawsuits stem from reporting systems; and, it is not likely that the Homecoming Committee’s misuse will ever be brought to their attention, even by the organization that fell victim to the Homecoming double standard.
“We would not be interested in taking it to the attention of the Olympic Committee,” Connor Samenus, president of Phi Delta Theta. “We feel like (the Homecoming Committee) has the full intention to make this the best possible Homecoming, similar to how we were trying to support Homecoming with our shirts.”