OLYMPIC marks protected under UDRP and US law


In International Olympic Committee v Ritchey, a three-member National Arbitration Forum panel has determined that Russell Ritchey, a US citizen, had registered the names 'olympicbrand.com', 'olympicsbrand.com', 'olympic-brand.com' and 'olympics-brand.com' in bad faith in violation of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), and in violation of US law.

Citing the ordinary bad-faith analysis applied pursuant to Paragraph 4(a) of the UDRP, the panel ruled that the domain names must be transferred to the complainants - the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the US Olympic Committee.

The panel also concluded that Ritchey's claim of reverse domain name hijacking must fail as a matter of law because "the generic words involved in the marks and domain names are specifically protected" by the US Ted Stevens Olympic & Amateur Sports Act, which grants the IOC exclusive rights in the Olympic symbol and the words 'Olympic' and 'Olympiad'.

Explaining that it "would ordinarily not be concerned with protecting generic terms such as 'Olympic'", the panel nonetheless went on to hold that the US government clearly intended to "preempt the field" with respect to the issues presented. Because "the term 'Olympic' and similar terms are protected by federal statute", Ritchey's registration of the domain names in question, in the opinion of the panel, could not be anything but a violation of US law, as well as the UDRP.

The panel's decision was clearly influenced by the fact that Ritchey is a US citizen. The implications of the case are unclear with respect to situations involving a person domiciled in another country where a similar statute has not been enacted. The decision would, however, have logical application in other situations where (i) a national government by code or statute limits the commercial uses that can be made of an otherwise generic word, and (ii) a citizen attempts to make use of the word as all or part of a registered domain name.

Robin S Wharton, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Atlanta

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