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Olympians threaten ICANN with lawsuit

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The International Olympic Committee is threatening to sue the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers if they don't receive protection for IOC trademarks in ICANN's upcoming revisions to its generic top-level domains (gTLD) guidelines.

"If these critical issues are not fully resolved and ICANN chooses not to place the Olympic trademarks on the reserved names list, then the IOC and its National Olympic Committees are prepared to employ all available legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial mechanisms to hold ICANN accountable for damage caused to the Olympic Movement," IOC director general Urs Lacotte and legal affairs director Howard Stupp wrote in a letter to ICANN published Monday.

The critical issues to which the IOC refers include "adequate rights protection measures necessary to quell an expected unprecedented level of cybersquatting and trademark infringment."

The IOC's concerns were voiced in response to the ICANN's proposed final version of its gTLD Applicant Guidebook, published on November 12. In their letter to ICANN, Lacotte and Stupp wrote that the IOC has "submitted eleven public comments to ICANN opposing its new gTLD program," but that they had as yet received no response.

The letter notes that those 11 comments had specifically requested "that the Olympic trademarks, including OLYMPIC and OLYMPIAD, be placed on the reserved names list."

The IOC and its affiliates have jealously protected those terms for 100 years, perhaps most famously in recent years when the United States Olympic Committee obtained a court order forcing the Gay Olympic Games to change its name to the Gay Games less than three weeks before its inaugural 1982 event in San Francisco.

That legal action was based on the US Amateur Sports Act of 1978 which, among other things, provided protection for the term "Olympics". Lacotte and Stupp note that "numerous countries" have enacted legislation to protect Olympic trademarks — countries that they say include the US and UK, China, France, Germany, and 11 others. They also write that the IOC "receives cooperation from numerous domain name merchants," incuding Network Solutions, GoDaddy, and others.

In addition to protection for the terms OLYMPIC and OLYMPIAD, Lacotte and Stupp also urge ICANN to protect the IOC from "confusing similarity and foreign equivalents to address rampant typosquatting."

If their objections aren't met, and if ICANN proceeds to implement the gTLD program as outlined in its proposed final version of the Applicant Guidebook, the IOC's lawyers are ready to pounce.

Lacotte and Stupp, however, do offer an olive branch: "Please rest assured that we prefer a prudent solution, reached by collaborative means," they write, "to any of these costler and more contentious remedies."

The IOC is not alone in its objections to the proposed gTLD guidelines. As Domain Incite points out, the financial-services lobbying group BITS is threatening to sue ICANN if the top-level domain name ".bank" isn't reserved.

The new gTLD guidelines will be front and center at ICANN's December 5-10 board meeting in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. We expect to hear from more organizations and companies petitioning to protect their brands both before and during that convocation.

The IOC plans to begin accepting applications under the new gTLD guidelines next March, although complaints from the IOC — and likely more to come from others — may push that date back. ®

Bootnote

Before you ask: the Special Olympics were given special dispensation to use the term "Olympics", first by the USOC in 1971, then by the IOC in 1988.

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