2 July 2014

The Tour de France and ambush marketing

Holmfirth - the Tour de France passes through my home town

The Tour de France is of particular interest to me this year because the route passes a few hundred yards from my front door. Crash barriers have already been erected along Chapel Hill in Huddersfield and the route is festooned with yellow, green, white and polka dot flags. As everyone in this county knows, the Tour is setting off from Leeds and two of the stages are taking place in Yorkshire with a third in the East of England. There has been an arts festival since the 27 March 2014 and an international business festival in Leeds this week.

Like all major sporting events the Tour is dependent on sponsorship but sponsorship is vulnerable to ambush marketing. To protect the sponsors of the London Olympics from ambush marketing new intellectual property rights were created, namely Olympic association right by the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 and London Olympic association right by the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. HM government was obliged to enact this legislation by the host city contract which it signed with the International Olympic Committee. Such feather bedding for the Olympic sponsors was criticized by many at the time including me (see "Olympics Association Right and London Olympics Association Right" 31 July 2012 NIPC law).

There has been nothing like those association rights for the Tour with the result that there has been a blossoming of yellow bicycles, assorted coloured flags and tea rooms and pubs throughout the county have broken out in measles (or is it polka dots). No doubt this decoration has been with the permission of the tour organizers but could anything be done about it if it was not? La Société du Tour de France has registered a number of Community and UK trade marks for the words "Le Tour de France" and some of the Tour's symbols for a large number of classes but it does not seem to have registered the colours of any of the maillots or indeed the polka dots. There is the the law of passing off, of course, but I would not like to argue that yellow, green or red spots is associated with the Tour and none other. In any case, by the time an application for an injunction came before the courts the cyclists would be well on their way to Champs-Élysées.

So tant pis as our friends across the channel would say, but does it matter?  I would reply "ce n'est pas grave",