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USOC says tire firm unfairly used rings

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Two billboards along I-15 in Salt Lake County unfairly use a trademarked Olympic symbol to sell tires, the U.S. Olympic Committee alleges in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

The Discount Tire Co. advertisements display five interlocking tires, similar to the well-known Olympic rings, and welcome visitors in six languages.

The Arizona-based company is not an Olympics sponsor, but the suit accuses it of using the ads to trick customers into thinking it is.

The billboards "intentionally attempt to mislead and deceive customers" into thinking the company is affiliated with the 2002 Games. Further, according to the lawsuit, the use of multiple languages intends "to confuse and deceive consumers . . . in light of the international nature of the Olympic Winter Games."

USOC became aware of the billboards on Dec. 12, 2001, and immediately demanded the ads be replaced. After a final demand on Jan. 7, only one billboard was replaced, the suit states. The other still stands just outside Salt Lake City.

The USOC suit also takes issue with the placement of the billboards, along I-15 in Draper and Salt Lake. The freeway is "the most heavily traveled corridor in the state of Utah," making the infringement more egregious, the suit states.

The lawsuit details correspondence between Discount Tire and USOC officials. The company reportedly said it was having trouble finding replacement advertising for the space, as well as workers to remove the offending ads. However, the suit states, Discount Tire said it would replace the billboards no later than Jan. 4.

USOC officials contend the misuse of trademarked Olympic symbols threatens their fund-raising potential.

"The goodwill associated with the Olympic (rings) and other Olympic symbols and terminology is a valuable asset that ensures the USOC's long-term ability to fund the U.S. Olympic Team for the Olympic Games," the suit states.

The suit asks the court to award it three times whatever amount the tire company has made by using the rings in its advertisements. It also asks that USOC's court costs and attorneys' fees be paid by Discount Tire.

Representatives of Discount Tire did not return calls for comment.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com