Firms change rather than fight USOC
The Olympic movement has passed over Chicago, but it has left a lasting and unpleasant mark on George Tsoukas’ business.
For some 40 years, he has owned a butcher shop near Randolph and Halsted streets. But a year or two ago, his shop known as Olympic Meat Packers Inc. was renamed Olympia Meat Packers Inc. because of a federal law that gives the United States Olympic Committee a trademark on the word “Olympic.”
Tsoukas, whose family is Greek, says he sometimes forgets and answers the phone with the old name.
“My customers, they hang up on me and they think it’s a different business,” he says. “I’m so used to ‘Olympic Meat’… and it’s so hard for me to remember ‘Olympia.’ ”
The USOC enforces its exclusive rights to the word “Olympic” under the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act of 1998. The law includes a clause explaining that businesses using the word “Olympic” before Sept. 21, 1950, are unaffected by the law.
“It’s our heritage. It’s our tradition,” said Tsoukas’ son, Nick, who manages the shop. “It comes from ancient Greece. … So I feel kind of like they’re taking that away from us. I don’t feel good about it at all, really. I was really surprised that they were calling, and they demanded that we change our name.”
The Tsoukas family’s shop is one of several Chicago-area businesses that the USOC has approached in the last several years for similar reasons. And although the Tsoukases have officially changed the business name, the word “Olympic” remains on their signage and business cards.
George Tsoukas says he had only been asked within the last two years to change the shop’s name, but there’s no indication the USOC enforced its trademark rights more aggressively on Chicago-area businesses because of the city’s bid for the 2016 Summer Games, which fell short this month.
USOC spokeswoman Lindsay DeWall Hogan said the group depends on sponsors to generate revenue, and if American businesses were allowed to use the word “Olympic” without supporting the Olympic movement, the USOC’s partnership with its sponsors would lose value. Without that revenue, Hogan said, the United States would be unable to field an Olympic team every two years.
Most of the time when the USOC enforces its rights against a business using “Olympic” it’s because someone has brought that matter to the USOC’s attention, Hogan said. She said allegations of infringement have come from Olympic athletes, sponsors, fans and the public.
Michael Atkins, a Seattle-based trademark attorney who has advised small businesses in their tangles with the USOC, says the Olympic group should pick and choose its battles more carefully.
“It’s just not fair that the USOC can be casual about its demands when it has such a large impact on the business that has to change its name,” Atkins said
Charna Halpern, founder of the iO Theater, which has locations in Wrigleyville and Los Angeles, said she was told by the USOC several years ago that her original business name, “Improv Olympic Theater,” was causing confusion.
“Nobody was coming here to learn the javelin throw, or the discus throw,” Halpern said. “Nobody came here thinking they were seeing the Olympics.”
Halpern, whose theater has helped launch the careers of Amy Poehler, Mike Myers and Stephen Colbert, suspects the USOC went after her because she was coming out with a book and was beginning to make a name for herself.
Rather than face a lawsuit, Halpern changed the theater’s name to iO.
In order to avoid the problems the Tsoukases and Halpern have encountered, David Donoghue , a Chicago-based trademark lawyer, said new businesses should do a trademark search through the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office database, or hire a trademark search service.
“The ancient Greeks should’ve trademarked the name,” he joked.
Halpern offered another alternative.
“I am going to patent the word ‘the.’ And I’m going to sue ‘The Tonight Show’ and anything with ‘the’ in it. That’s my next plan.”
(source: chicago tribune)
Firms change rather than fight USOC