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Statutory Trademarks of the American Red Cross & U.S. Olympic Rings

There are several ways to establish trademark rights. The most common is through federal or state registration or establishing rights through the common law. Some trademarks, however, are set by statute.

The Red Cross


March 6, 2019. Beauregard, Alabama. After an EF4 tornado ripped through Lee County, Alabama, a 24 mile-long and mile-wide stretch was completely demolished. Photo by Ashley Henyan/American Red Cross

The American Red Cross, by statute, has the exclusive rights to use a red Greek cross on a white field. It is codified in 18 U.S.C.§706, which was passed in 1905. Any use before that date is grandfathered in, such as, for example, use by Johnson & Johnson. As a penalty, the statute provides for either fines or prison time, or both. Pretty harsh. The American Red Cross has enforced these rights. Indeed, a quick search of trademark oppositions returns well over 200 oppositions filed by the American Red Cross since 1988. There are likely many more cease-and-desist letters.

The Olympics

The Olympic symbols, emblems, trademarks, and names are also statutorily protected. These include the classic “5 interlocking rings,” the “escutcheon having a blue chief and vertically extending red and white bars” (an escutcheon is a shield-like symbol), and the “words ‘Olympic,’ ‘Olympiad,’ ‘Citius Altius Fortius.’” The United States Olympic Committee has been a party to over 388 trademark oppositions since 1975 and likely many other enforcement actions to protect their marks. Not that we blame either party for vigorously enforcing these rights. What both parties do is valuable. And keeping the brand strong is critical. Moreover, while registered marks are presumed valid, the validity of registered marks can be challenged. But statutorily created rights like these are rock solid, and enforcement must be quite easy. Can you imagine having such a trademark in your portfolio?

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