Royal in-laws' website probed by "trademark police"

LONDON Thu Jul 19, 2012 12:36pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - A party website run by Prince William's in-laws has attracted the attention of copyright lawyers acting for London Olympic organizers.

The Middletons, whose daughter Kate is married to the second-in-line to the British throne, promote games and party items on their "Party Pieces" mail order company website.

Kate gave up working for the family business shortly before her lavish wedding to William last year, after which she became Duchess of Cambridge.

The Middleton family has made millions of pounds out of the business since it was set up 25 years ago.

Under a specific section on the site, called "Celebrate the Games", an image of an athlete throwing a javelin can be seen as well as a torch draped in Union flag colors.

A sub-heading "Let the Games Begin" tops a page full of items, including a game involving separate hoops in the colors of the Olympic rings and gold, silver and bronze medals on the lid of a game called sporting trivia.

"2012 sees a landmark year for celebrations and The Games, which take place between the 27th July and 12th August, are a standout event!" it says.

A spokeswoman for the London Olympic organising committee (LOCOG) said it had no issue with the products, and no infringement had taken place, but it "may have to ask them to make a tiny tweak to the copy".

There was no comment from Party Pieces.

LOCOG has enforced strict merchandising and marketing rules on behalf of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to protect the interests of both domestic and international sponsors who have each spent millions of pounds for advertising rights.

Failure to protect such interests would result in British taxpayers having to pick up the tab for staging the Games, beyond the 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) already forked out for its infrastructure, LOCOG added.

The word "Olympic" and the rings logo are among the most recognizable trademarks in the world - and the most heavily protected.

Terms such as Games and 2012 cannot be combined, neither can they be used with London, summer, medals, bronze, silver or gold in adverts or on goods.

Certain images, such as a runner holding a torch, with the backdrop of London would also be banned.

Hundreds of infringements have already been recorded, but no-one has been taken to court. Anyone found guilty could be fined up to 20,000 pounds.

"We want to be sensible in terms of the way we implement the Act," Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters, saying he was unaware of the Middleton case.

The 11 international companies who sponsor the Olympics have paid nearly $1 billion for the chance to have their brand associated with the Games and the Olympic rings for a four-year cycle which covers one winter and one summer Games.

A further 700 million pounds has been paid by 44 domestic sponsors to help LOCOG meet its 2 billion pound bill to put on the Games.

(Reporting by Avril Ormsby)

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