A Dutch branding company, a global sports organisation and the name of a French aristocrat who has been dead for 80 years might not seem like the ingredients for a high-stakes legal battle.
But the showdown between Tempting Brands and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the right to commercialise the name Pierre de Coubertin — the founder of the modern Olympic Games — could prove to be worth millions of dollars.
In 2007, the IOC secured “word mark” protection for the name “Coubertin” from the European Union Intellectual Property Office.
The IOC’s goal was to block anyone else from trading off a legacy it considered inseparable from the Olympic movement.
But Tempting Brands, which has a history of scooping up an eclectic mix of marketing rights, argued that in accordance with EU rules the IOC had lost its hold on the Coubertin mark because it had failed to use it for five years.
The company based in the town of Veenendaal near Utrecht then moved to secure trademark protection for the Coubertin name in 60 countries.
Tempting Brand’s trademark stock already includes the iconic US Route 66, once the main highway used to explore the American West that was immortalised in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel “On the Road” as well as the classic song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” covered by the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and others.
The company, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, has added the tagline “Feel the Freedom” to its Route 66 trademark.
Tempting Brands has also laid claim to the trademark for Marie Antoinette.
The monarch, who was beheaded at age 38 at the height of the French Revolution, is best used to target “sophisticated, stylish and fashion conscious woman” between 18 and 39, the company says on its website.
Coubertin, a historian and academic who believed sport has a vital role to play in a healthy society, founded the IOC in 1894 in Paris before relocating the organisation to its current home in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1915.
The IOC is now suing Tempting Brands to protect its founder’s heritage from being “tarnished by the possible sale of products under a ‘Pierre de Coubertin’ mark and be wrongly associated with a business venture of a company that is totally unrelated to the Olympic Movement,” a spokesperson told AFP.
The IOC, the spokesperson added, is “the guardian of (Coubertin’s) legacy”.
For now, the Coubertin family is staying clear of the fight and “letting the IOC manage the situation,” Jacques de Navacelle de Coubertin, a descendent of the Olympic founder, told AFP.