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Intellectual property and the 2012 Olympics

The London Olympic Games’ motto was “Inspire a Generation” and I’m feeling inspired to get back into a gym routine to burn off the extra three pounds I’ve gained watching the Games and eating bar food.

So just before writing this blog post, I got on the treadmill pretending to race against Jamaica’s Usain Bolt with the intention that after the run, I would use stories from the Olympic Games to illustrate nuances in business culture across countries. But somewhere between the cool down and sitting down to write I began to wonder if the Games actually promote or inhibit cultural diversity.

The Olympic Games certainly do a great job of bringing together a large number of countries to compete, as well as highlighting the diversity of the athletes, their personal stories of triumph and the uniqueness of their cultures.

But do the Olympics promote cultural globalization? Specifically, did the London Games help to spread Americanism?

Encouraging people to eat at McDonalds and drink Coke while buying it all with a Visa card. Of the 11 Olympic Worldwide Partners, six are headquartered in the U.S. (including Coca-Cola, Dow, GE, McDonalds, P&G and Visa), one each from Japan (Panasonic), Korea (Samsung), Switzerland (Omega), France (Atos), and Taiwan (Acer).

Moreover, did the London Games affect the way the world values Intellectual Property? The difference in how countries view Intellectual Property seemed to come up a lot during the Games. The British had made a concerted effort to block counterfeit Olympic merchandise from being sold, seizing thousands of fake items at ports and airports. The International Trademark Association (headquartered in the U.S.) issued warnings to fans about fake Olympic merchandise and provided tips on how to spot a knock-off.

So when it was revealed that the Egyptian delegation had counterfeit Nike gear, some were surprised that Egypt’s Olympic Committee Chairman publicly defended the fake gear, saying Egypt was justified in giving its athletes knock-off gear because they couldn’t afford the real thing.

It is not uncommon in developing countries to rationalize the use of knock-off products because of price. The controversy over the use of counterfeit gear didn’t die down until Nike volunteered to provide the Egyptian athletes authentic gear for free. Are Egyptians now more sensitive to intellectual property than before the games?

Questions also arose over the opening ceremony outfits. When the media reported that the American delegation outfits were made in China, there was public outrage and fury. Some U.S. political leaders wanted to burn the uniform!

However, a U.S. designer created the uniforms and several folks in the media asserted that fact alone made the uniform American — no matter where they were sewn.

Notably, the media attention on the designer-made American uniforms struck a chord in India. While the Indian outfits were made in India, several Indians took to social media lamenting that their outfits weren’t “designer.” Many felt the Indian delegation deserved the cache of a designer uniform.

Brand-awareness is a relatively new concept for India’s booming middle class that is just beginning to embrace the consumerism often associated with western cultures.

I can’t help but wonder if India has become a little more brand-conscious as a result of the Olympic Games. Or if the Games sponsorship promoted a cultural bias. Are these examples of globalizing cultural values? And if so, are these a good or bad side effect of the Games?