Canadian Olympic Committee files for injunction against North Face

The Canadian Olympic Committee has made good on a threat to take legal action against clothing company The North Face over alleged trademark infringement.

Olympic committee wants to seize Villagewear clothing over trademark infringement

Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Overholt says The North Face is not an official partner and its sales do not support Canadian athletes. (CBC)

The Canadian Olympic Committee has made good on a threat to take legal action against clothing company The North Face over alleged trademark infringement.

It filed a notice of civil claim in a Vancouver court on Tuesday seeking an injunction against the clothing company because of the way it has advertised its 2014 “Villagewear” collection.

The COC says North Face is not an official Olympic sponsor, but its Villagewear collection is designed and promoted as if it has an Olympic connection.

The COC asked the company in December to cease and desist from using slogans referring to the Sochi 2014 Olympics and to make a charitable donation to the Canadian Olympic Foundation.

That didn't happen, it says, and now the COC wants to seize both the clothing and its packaging and promotional material. It also asked the court to force North Face to reveal profits from the sale of the clothes so it can make a monetary claim against the company.

The civil claim alleges that the design of the Villagewear collection, from its choice of colours and symbols such as the flags of other nations and the marks RU/14 or 2.7.14 (the date of the Olympics) was designed to fool consumers that it was related to the Winter Olympics.

The clothing — including hats, shirts and duffle bags — had names such as “men’s Sochi full-zip hoodie” and “Sochi base camp duffle.”

North Face marketing materials used slogans such as “Support Canada with patriotic gear” and “Sport the colour of your home country.”  

The company also introduced the Villagewear collection with in-store signage that read “The Villagewear Collection captures the international spirit of Sochi, as it welcomes the world’s greatest athletes, through iconic The North Face styles and unique, athlete-inspired design.”

The North Face wasn't available for comment, but said last month it never meant to imply it was an Olympic sponsor.

Now a B.C. court will have to decide if it infringed on the Olympic trademark and, if so, what kind of monetary penalty might be appropriate.

In an interview with CBC News last month, COC CEO Chris Overholt said the COC is 98 per cent funded by sponsorship and must act to protect its brand. He pointed out that The Bay has paid millions to be an Olympic sponsor and sell Olympic-branded clothing.

“What is important to us in all of this is we would never want Canadians to conclude that in buying The North Face apparel they are in some way supporting the team, our athletes or coaches. That's simply not true. If you're buying what our partners provide ... then you're supporting Canadian athletes,” he said.

With files from CBC's Jason Proctor


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