The Canadian Olympic Committee has sent a "cease and desist" letter to The North Face, charging that the clothing maker's new line is infringing on its trademark by trying to associate with the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
The North Face is not an official sponsor of the Games — the Bay spent millions to be primary clothing sponsor for next month's Games in Russia.
But The North Face launched the “international collection” in November featuring a T-shirt with the date of the opening ceremonies “07.02.2014” and other clothing with a patch saying “RU 14,” a reference to the Russian Games.
"They've recently launched a line of apparel that in our estimation takes an Olympic position in their advertising,” COC chief executive Chris Overholt told CBC News. “That's not appropriate. They haven't paid for that right."
The COC says it has been monitoring The North Face line for six weeks and believes the company is involved in “ambush marketing.”
“One of the ways that we add value to our partners is to make sure we protect the commercial rights that they invest in on behalf of our athletes and coaches. It's essential that we manage that position for our partners in a very aggressive way, when we see something as egregious as this,” Overholt said.
The COC issued a warning, which resulted in North Face taking some Olympic trademarks, including the Olympic rings, out of its promotional material.
COC wants clothing pulled from shelves
The letter with a threat of legal action is the next stage in trying to get the company to comply.
“The outcome that we are seeking is that they will pull the line off the shelves,” Overholt said. “Our partners are appropriately Hudson's Bay, and all the work they do to outfit our team and our athletes to make them look as great as they do when they show up at the Olympic Games, and Adidas of course on our high-performance apparel and footwear side.”
Asked for a comment, The North Face replied via email.
“The North Face has been a longstanding supporter of the freeskiing movement, including our sponsorship of Canadian Freeskiing athletes Mike Riddle and Yuki Tsubota. We are not an official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee or Team Canada and never indicated we were. We have no further comment."
Olympic pretenders show up at just about every Games — Lululemon took a tongue-in-cheek approach in Vancouver in 2010, referring on labels to "a cool sporting event." During the London Summer Games, the Gap and Old Navy had to yank hoodies with the names of past Olympic cities with the dates of their Games, as well as T-shirts with Olympic references.
Overholt said the COC is 98 per cent funded by sponsorship and must protect its brand.
“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.