The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is none too happy about The North Face’s design and marketing choices for some recently released apparel, which it believes is an attempt to mislead people into thinking the company is an official sponsor of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The COC has filed suit in a Canadian Court alleging that the apparel and the marketing surrounding it violate numerous Olympic trademarks. The dispute is over The North Face’s clothing line originally dubbed its “2014 Village Wear Collection,” which used the marks “RU/14,” and “2.7.14” (the date of the open ceremonies). The designs also prominently feature national flags and the items were allegedly identified in marketing materials with names such as “Men’s Sochi Full Zip Hoodie.” Here is an example of one of the items from the collection. The COC claims that the words, images, and symbols were used by The North Face in a way that was “deliberately designed and calculated to mislead and confuse the public into believing [The North Face] is an official sponsor [of the 2014 Winter Olympics]. The North Face has renamed the line the “International Collection” in response to complaints by the COC but apparently has not changed any of the designs and has refused to stop selling the products. The COC is seeking damages in an unspecified amount, as well as an injunction prohibiting the further sale of the products.
The North Face has released a statement on the matter denying liability. The director of brand communications said in the statement:
The North Face has been a longstanding supporter of the free-skiing movement but we are not an official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee or Team Canada and never indicated that we were. We do not agree with the COC’s claims and are disappointed that they have taken this action.”
This whole lawsuit is not that surprising given that the Olympics have become all about big big money in the past decades and the International Olympic Committee is fiercely protective of its brand. The Olympic brand has a lot of value associated with it and companies spend oodles of money to become official Olympic sponsors. Although all of the individual actions of The North Face may have been okay on their own, they may actually be in trouble when you look at the apparel and marketing campaign as a whole. Perhaps most troubling for The North Face is the fact that it allegedly had a product catalog that stated the product line “captures the international spirit of the Olympic Games.”