The Canadian Olympic Committee has filed suit against the Canadian arm of the parent company of The North Face, alleging that the apparel giant is marketing a line of clothing that infringes the Olympic Committee’s trademarks and implies that The North Face is a sponsor of the 2014 Games, when in fact, it is not.
The International Olympic Committee calls the tactic “ambush marketing”—practices used by companies in which they attempt to exploit the Olympic brands while avoiding the hefty cost of official sponsorship.
The dispute began when North Face unveiled a new line it called “the Villagewear Collection,” an alleged reference to the athlete’s village. The collection featured items such as jackets and bags that display the colors and flags of various countries, the words “Sochi” and “Olympics”, and also include country-specific adornments. For example, the Canadian-themed gear is red and white and features a Maple Leaf. Additionally, several pieces are adorned with “RU/14”—a reference, the lawsuit claims, to the 2014 Games in Russia. Other pieces have the number “2.7.14” and the marketing materials include descriptions such as “Men’s Sochi Full Zip Hoodie.”
The Canadian Olympic Committee apparently approached The North Face a number of times to demand a cessation to the marketing of the line. In response, The North Face rebranded the line as the “International Collection”, but took no further action.
The lawsuit claims that such practices mislead consumers into believing that The North Face is an official sponsor of the 2014 Olympics. A spokeswoman for The North Face, however, responds that The North Face makes no such claims:
“The North Face has been a long-standing supporter of the freeskiing movement but we are not an official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee or Team Canada and never indicated we were,” Ann Krcik responded by email.
The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction to stop The North Face’s marketing tactics, as well as damages. The case has been filed in the B.C. Supreme Court.
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