We weren't about to let the Olympic Committee take away our history

April 10, 2011 

Here at The Olympian, we don't promote the racing of ferrets, market our own brand of wine or stage contests between athletic pole dancers. We simply publish a newspaper every day as we have since 1890.

Despite that long 121-year history, we’ve only recently obtained a registered federal trademark for our name, The Olympian, after a four year epic struggle with the Patent Trademark Office and later the U.S. Olympic Committee .

You may know that the USOC operated under various names until it settled on the present one in 1961. Through the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, Congress gave the committee exclusive rights to the usage of the words such as “Olympic” and “Olympiad.” It used this act to sue other organizations using these terms.

Among those it has threatened to sue: a small group in Eugene, Ore., operating an annual fundraiser called the “Ferret Olympics” that benefited a local animal shelter; the Olympic Cellars Winery in Port Angeles and a strip club in Colorado Springs, home of the USOC, that advertised its “Pole Olympics.”

Most of the time, when the USOC throws its weight around, the small businesses and nonprofits it has threatened just run for cover. They can’t match the financial and legal resources of such a powerful national organization.

But it was a matter of pride for us to stand up to the USOC. We’ve been using our name since before the USOC was born and we weren’t about to let them take away our history.

When McClatchy newspapers purchased The Olympian in 2006, the company applied for a federal trademark as a matter of course. It was during this process that the USOC intervened to oppose our application because, they argued, our name would “tend to cause confusion or mistake, to deceive, and to falsely suggest a connection” to the Olympic brand.

To illustrate the ridiculousness of that argument, we had to show that no elite amateur athletes had ever appeared in our offices or made application to us for funding. We write about thousands of talented young athletes every year, but not one of them has ever mistaken us for the Olympic Training Center.

We have to thank former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton for our success in fighting off the USOC’s legal team. When the USOC started bullying businesses on the Olympic Peninsula to change their names in the mid-1990s, Gorton demanded an exception that recognizes our state’s unique claim to the Olympic name.

The exception Gorton demanded not only allows for continued uses of Olympic related words that existed before Sept. 21, 1950, but also exempted uses for goods or services west of the Cascade Mountain range that clearly refer to geography, rather than athletic contests.

We don’t get any financial benefit from winning this legal battle, just the distinction of being the only federally registered trademark with the word “Olympian” in it that isn’t owned by the USOC.

We also won the peace of mind that after 120-plus years of continuous daily publication, we unquestionably own the rights to our name. Not even the behemoth of the USOC can take that away.

ET CETERA

The Olympia High School Rotary Interact Club is raising funds for the local non profit GRuB and for Heifer International. It’s an international dinner called “Eat Globe Oly” from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, at the OHS commons.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian .com.

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