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McClatchy faces off with Olympic Committee over trademark

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The U.S. Olympic Committee is protesting an effort by The McClatchy Co. to trademark the name of its newspaper here, The Olympian.

The McClatchy Co., which also publishes this Web site, submitted its application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in October 2006, shortly after it bought Knight-Ridder, the newspaper's former owner.

Lawyers representing the committee argue that the similarity in appearance and sound of its trademarks to The Olympian “tends to cause confusion or mistake, to deceive, and to falsely suggest a connection.”

Such a similarity threatens the committee’s “relationships with its licensees, its partners and its sponsors, and thereby, its main source of revenue to support U.S. athletes,” according to the 12-page notice of opposition filed with the federal agency’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The USOC is mandated by Congress to field, train and send the U.S. Olympic Team to the Olympic Games. It pays for these endeavors through license and sponsorship fees paid by companies to use its name and design. In 1978, Congress passed a federal law that gave the U.S. Olympic Committee exclusive control in the United States of numerous trademarks, including Olympic, Olympiad and Paralympic.

Congress amended the law in 1998 to provide trademark protection to the USOC for some additional terms.

But McClatchy attorneys point out that the amendment also includes a provision that recognizes Washington state’s claim to the Olympic name. This exception covers naturally occurring mountains or the geographic region named prior to Feb. 6, 1998, and where “such businesses, goods, or services are operated, sold, and marketed in the State of Washington west of the Cascade Mountain range and operations, sales, and marketing outside of this area are not substantial.”

Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gordon sought the exception.

“It is only fair that the USOC not be able to interfere with this use,” he said, according to a transcript from the Congressional record. “Although there are relatively few instances in which the USOC, crying ‘mine, mine, mine’ has gone after any of the thousands of businesses in Washington state that use the word ‘Olympic,’ the attitude that the USOC has displayed in these few instances demand correction.”

In late 2007, the Olympic Cellars Winery between Port Angeles and Sequim received a letter from a USOC lawyer saying the business was infringing on its trademark. The committee did not oppose sales of the wine in Western Washington but rather Internet sales outside the area covered under the exception to the federal law. The two sides settled the dispute later in the year, with the winery agreeing not to significantly grow its brand with the Olympic name.

The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office initially rejected McClatchy's application for technical reasons but eventually allowed it to go forward. The U.S. Olympic Committee filed its notice of opposition Sept. 18.