Tokyo 2020 (it's not a typo)

​​​​​​​The Tokyo Olympics are taking place under the “2020” brand for a number of reasons related to intellectual property and the unusual circumstances around this year’s event

The Tokyo Olympics have officially kicked off (albeit a year later than initially expected) and the multi-sport event has quickly overwhelmed news feeds with interesting facts, figures, and features. But what does any of this have to do with Intellectual Property (IP)?

Tokyo Olympics 2020. image credit Asao Tokolo

Tokyo Olympics 2020. ​Image credit: Asao Tokolo

There is, of course, the giant “elephant in the room”: the constant references on signage, apparel and merchandise to a year that is, well, not 2021.  The simple reason is that, although the Olympics had to be postponed due to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tokyo organising committee, together with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), agreed to maintain the "Tokyo 2020" brand. But why the decision not to rebrand?

To unpack this, it is important to appreciate the magnitude of the decision to postpone the Games to a different calendar year.  Since its inception in 1896, the modern Olympics was only postponed altogether in 1916, 1940 and 1944, due to World Wars I and II. Never before have the Olympics been postponed or cancelled due to a pandemic. As a result, an unprecedented circumstance arose for the IOC.

According to an article published by Carlos Castro, the head of IP at the IOC, the IP journey of each edition of the Games starts around 10 years before the Olympic flame leaves Olympia in Greece and makes its way to the host city, where it lights the Olympic Cauldron at the opening ceremony.  It is common for cities interested in hosting an edition of the Olympics to register trademarks and domain names at a very early stage of the Olympic journey to preserve the necessary IP ecosystem for a successful bid.

Once selected, a host city establishes a commercial plan with the IOC for the Olympics which, among other things, sets out the marketing plan and supports the operational planning and staging of the Games.  From around bid stage until after the closing ceremony, IP such as literary and artistic works, relevant designs, logos, emblems or slogans are created, commissioned, acquired or otherwise secured.  This naturally includes the design of the official mascots and logo – a subject that has raised controversy recently, but which is perhaps a topic for another day.

Similar to any other commercial product, the IP rights associated with the Olympics protect the integrity and uniqueness of the brand. The IP protection is also crucial for ensuring that the IOC continues to generate revenues from the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world.
Since Tokyo 2020 is projected to lose around USD 800 million in total revenue from ticket sales, there is a greater need to strategically use IP assets and branding on already-commissioned medals and souvenirs at this year's Games. This position has ultimately prompted the commercial decision to maintain the "Tokyo 2020" brand established years before the coronavirus outbreak.

If you would like to discuss the commercialisation of your IP assets and the importance of protecting your unique brand, please give one of our specialists a call.


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