Skip to main content

Team USA Calls Puma’s Olympic Trademark Fight a ‘Declaration of War’

After a nearly year-long trademark fight with Puma, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is suing the German sportswear company, equating its actions to a “declaration of war.”

As much of the world came to terms with the extent of the coronavirus pandemic last March, the International Olympic Committee made the unprecedented decision to delay that year’s Olympic Games. That same day, March 24, Puma SE filed an application to trademark “Puma Tokyo 2021.”

When the USOPC heard of the move, it said it contacted Puma to object to the application. According to the USOPC, it refused. A week after its initial filing, Puma put forward another application, but for the trademark “Puma Tokyo 2022.”

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused registration for both applications in April, describing them “as likely to cause confusion with USOPC’s registrations and as creating a false connection with the USOPC,” according to the lawsuit filed by the USOPC last week. In June, Puma filed trademarks for “Puma Beijing 2022” and “Puma Paris 2024,” but the USPTO denied both attempts in July for the same reasons.

The USOPC’s system of trademarks—the host city, followed by the year—is longstanding, with the lawsuit citing examples going back to 1980. In a case surrounding the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the USOPC noted, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board previously supported its claim to the city-year trademark, saying it had no doubt that the general public in the United States would recognize the phrase “Sydney 2000” as referring “unambiguously” to the then-upcoming Olympic Games.

Related Stories

Since being rebuffed by the USPTO, Puma has sought to cancel several trademarks of the USOPC—Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Paris 2024—claiming they are invalid and saying it needs those marks to promote the Olympic athletes it sponsors.

The USOPC pushed back on this claim in its lawsuit, saying it allows equipment manufacturers such as Puma to sponsor athletes and provide them with equipment. The guidelines surrounding this, it added, were developed in consultation with the sports apparel and equipment community, including Puma. While these rules allow manufacturer branding, the USOPC said they “expressly prohibit Puma and other manufactures from associating [the city-year trademarks] with their companies.”

In the face of this, the USOPC’s lawsuit alleges Puma “has used and intends to use each of the Puma Tokyo 2021, Puma Tokyo 2022, Puma Beijing 2022, and Puma Paris 2024 marks… to compete with USOPC sponsors and licensees, causing irreparable damage to the USOPC.”

Perhaps the most consequential element of the lawsuit lies in what it will mean for future USOPC sponsorships.

According to the lawsuit, the USOPC and its affiliates use a two-tier sponsorship model consisting of domestic sponsors and global sponsors. Only those belonging to the global sponsorship level are allowed to commercially use the city-year trademarks “because they are among the most valuable and coveted of the Olympic Games trademarks,” the USOPC said. Only 15 companies belong to this sponsorship level, including Coca-Cola, Toyota, Visa, Samsung, GE and Intel.

The USOPC described its ability to protect its city-year trademarks as “paramount to the viability” of the global sponsorship program. Its participants, it added, are “critical” to the organization’s financial health and stability. A free-for-all system, it argued, would dilute the value of USOPC sponsorships and directly affect the ability of athletes to obtain necessary support. “Unauthorized use of USOPC intellectual property, such as undertaken by Puma, ambushes the USOPC and its intellectual property rights,” the lawsuit said.

Puma declined to comment.

Nike debuts second iteration of the ZoomX Vaporfly

Elsewhere in the athletic world, a new Nike sneaker enters the marathon fray.

In 2019, Kenyan athlete Eliud Kipchoge made history when he became the first runner to finish a marathon in under two hours. The shoes he wore that day, a prototype of the Nike’s Alphafly sneaker, and the related Vaporfly model have since become hot topics in the world of professional running, with some worried the footwear amounts to mechanical doping.

Despite the controversy, many runners have embraced the shoe. And though there was a question over whether World Athletics would ban the Vaporfly, a decision last year cleared the way for the sneakers to be worn at the Olympics—so long as they had been released to the public for four months prior to the date of the competition.

Now, with that four-month buffer approaching, Nike—itself a domestic sponsor of Team USA—is preparing to release the second installment in its ZoomX Vaporfly Next%.

Nike's ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 keeps many of the same elements of its predecessors, while adding a few new features.
ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT% 2 Nike

The updated running shoe features engineered mesh material in the upper that Nike says is softer and more breathable than the Vaporweave material used in its predecessor. Pockets of padding at the top of the tongue provide a more comfortable fit and reduce lace pressure, while additional forefoot reinforcement helps with containment and durability in high-wear striking areas, Nike added.

Several design features from the original ZoomX Vaporfly Next% return with the new iteration. Among these are the original’s full-length, articulated carbon plate, designed to deliver a propulsive feel and promote a smooth stride transition; a wide forefoot midsole; full-length ZoomX foam; deep, longitudinal grooves in the rubber outsole for improved traction; and an 8 mm offset to help with stability and energy return.

A white colorway of the ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2 released Sunday in limited quantities for Nike members. An aqua colorway will debut on Nike’s website starting March 25 in select markets. The Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.