With the Olympics starting, Morrison & Foerster partner Kelly Crabb and some of his colleagues will be able to breathe a little easier.
Over the last six years, Crabb and Steven Toronto, the head of the firm's Beijing office, have led about 40 lawyers from MoFo offices worldwide in representing the Beijing Organizing Committee for this year's games.
The firm, the BOC's only international counsel, is handling a wide range of issues, including helping protect the intellectual property, a major source of funding for the organization.
Crabb leaves for Beijing Saturday and will be there until Aug. 20, and it won't be just to watch some gymnastics.
The firm began representing the committee in 2002 and Crabb, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, estimates that he has spent at least 40 or 50 percent of his time in any of the intervening years on BOC matters. And while it has been good for his practice, it has also been good for his firm.
"It's been a very helpful calling card for conversations with potential clients," said firm Chairman Keith Wetmore. MoFo will also use the event to entertain clients, he said, and has run its own series of internal Nintendo Wii competitions "to keep the games in the forefront of the minds of our personnel."
The legal work for the committee fits into three broad categories -- commercial and IP, entertainment and infrastructure issues -- and involved drafting a lot of contracts and forms. The work was done by attorneys from the Beijing, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York and Brussels offices, Crabb said.
"This was not a casual kind of thing," he said.
The four major moneymakers for the Olympics -- estimated to bring in about $2 billion total -- are ticket sales, merchandise licensing, sponsorships and broadcasting, Crabb said.
And while Olympic IP includes cute cartoon mascots, Crabb says the government took trademark matters very seriously. The city of Beijing and then the national government enacted laws protecting the Olympic symbols and followed up with strong enforcement, Crabb said.
"I listened to my client give a talk, and during his talk he said in 2007 there were 450 cases of enforcement," Crabb said. "By April of this year, there were already 500 cases."
While the government cracked down on piracy, Crabb researched ways to combat "ambush marketing," a tactic companies use to take advantage of an event by, for instance, flying a banner over an event without having paid to be a sponsor.
"Interestingly enough, there are very few laws in this area," he said.
Organizers were able to address the issue with regulations, which included keeping nonsponsor advertisements a distance from the venues and giving official sponsors the first right of refusal to purchase air time from broadcasters.
MAKING THE TEAM
While managing all the legal work was tough, Crabb had one advantage: He'd done some of it before.
He worked with the Salt Lake Olympic Committee on entertainment matters leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics -- first for Dewey Ballantine and then, after joining MoFo in 1999, for his new firm. Before the Salt Lake torch was even lit, he was urging his firm to compete for the Beijing representation, despite some initial resistance.
"When I first sat down with one of my partners and said we should go after the Beijing Olympics, the first words out of his mouth were 'what do they need lawyers for?'" Crabb said. That was July 13, 2001, the day Beijing was chosen to host the Games.
Crabb then took his suggestion to Toronto, who said there were probably hundreds of firms interested and the committee had probably already chosen one. But Crabb persisted and was helped a few months later by an associate's chance encounter.
"I got a frantic phone call from one of my partners in Beijing to tell me that this young associate had sat down at a table at this business conference right next to two guys," who, he said, had to form the Olympic Committee's legal department. And they hadn't chosen a firm yet.
The firm flew some members of the Salt Lake committee to Beijing in fall 2001, then flew members of the BOC's legal department to Salt Lake City that winter.
"We passed all the tests, I guess, and in the fall of 2002 we signed an engagement letter with them," Crabb said.
THE LAST LAP
While the games end on Aug. 24, Crabb's work is far from over.
"We do have one last assignment, and that is, we're working on the windup and dissolution of the organization," he said.
Dissolving the Salt Lake committee took nine months with 5,000 contracts to be settled. The Beijing committee has between 10,000 and 15,000 contracts.
"They have to settle out every single claim, and they have to do it meticulously," he said.
When he is finally done, Crabb said, he'll return to tending to his other clients.
And it's never too soon to think about the 2012 London Games.
MoFo Lawyers Work Hard as Beijing Organizing Committee's Only International Counsel
August 11, 2008