How much IP is there in a Football Game?

Football is a sport that involves, to varying degrees, kicking a ball to score a goal. Football is a global sport. The senior men’s national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world’s governing organisation of association football, compete in the FIFA World Cup, commonly referred to as the World Cup. The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be played from 20 November to 18 December in Qatar. It will be the 22nd edition of the event, and the first played in the Arab world. Various legal protections exist for various types of intellectual property (IP), including those for inventions (patents), brands (trademarks), designs (industrial design rights or design patents), and creative works (sports programmes, other sports-related creative outputs, and specific sports broadcasts) (copyright and related rights).

Given the magnitude of the sport — it becomes a mandate to protect various aspects of football under various branches of intellectual property rights. Let’s have a look at some of the most crucial aspects of IP in a football game!

Trademarks in a Football Game

A trademark is a symbol that can be used to differentiate one company’s products and services from those of another. Trademarks are effective and essential marketing resources. Their clever application creates huge business prospects to make money in the world of sports. When we discuss a trademark, it can be the name of a football team, the club’s logo, a sort of 3D aspect, such as the stadium, or any merchandise that is currently being produced. The logos of the brand on a jersey, or a uniform constitute a trademark. The colour combinations of the uniform with the distinct patterns can also be covered under trademarks. Even a football that is used to play the game has a particular logo on it that is covered under trademark protection.

Further, football teams can increase the value of their brand by licencing their trademarks and other intellectual property rights to companies that make merchandise like clothing, accessories, footwear, and more. For instance, Manchester United and sportswear tycoon Adidas have a ten-year deal covering global technical sponsorship and dual-branded licencing rights. As consumers embrace the potent image and values that sports encapsulate, sports clubs and leagues are quickly evolving into global lifestyle brands thanks to the strategic marketing alliances that now exist between major apparel companies like Adidas, Nike, Puma, Under Armour, and others and sports organisations. Companies frequently spend millions of dollars for high-profile sports figures (and other celebrities) to endorse their products because they recognise the huge marketing potential of these superstars. Some even create product lines with the athlete’s name on them. All these things are covered under trademarks.

Copyright and Related Rights in a Football Game

Football leagues, especially FIFA cups, rely on broadcasters to share their activities with followers around the world, engage them in their events, and even bring in sponsors. The connection between sports, television, and other media are supported by copyright and related rights, particularly those pertaining to broadcasting corporations. Sports events as a whole are typically not covered by copyright laws, but media firms shell out astronomical sums to have the exclusive right to broadcast the biggest sporting events live. Such occasions draw millions of spectators wanting to experience the thrill of a sporting event.

The majority of sports organisations today get the lion’s share of their income from the sale of broadcasting and media rights, the value of which has skyrocketed in recent years. Along with helping to support the grassroots growth of sports, the money they bring in helps pay for large sporting events and stadium renovations. Further, the actions or signature moves of important players may then be protected using copyright as well. Sporting movements do not come under the usual categories covered by intellectual property rules, thus there is still a gap. IPR frequently excludes from its purview any act brought about by the human body, such as surgical maneuvers, yet athletic movements go well beyond that. Sports moves combine art, skill, and judgment, giving the person who invented or created them an edge over their competitors. This move frequently determines the outcome of the game, giving the so-called “signature moves” extra protection. However, the rules around this concept are not yet streamlined across the globe.

Plant Variety Protection in a Football Game

Unlike other sports, the type of grass used in football fields is chosen based on its environmental adaptability. In the northern states of America, there are three types of cool-season grasses that are used on the football field: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue. In the southern states, warm-season Bermuda grass and Bahia grass is primarily used. The major football associations have regulations governing the type of turf that must be present on a football pitch. If the competition rules allow it, the football pitch must be completely green and natural. Due to these regulations, most football pitches are built of real grass, however they are occasionally covered in synthetic turf. Football pitches covered in natural grass are preferred by professional football players over areas with artificial turf. For this year, FIFA has chosen the grass seed, created by a Georgian business, and instructed Qatar 2022 organisers to utilise it for playing fields at all stadiums and training facilities. The Qatar 2022 pitch contractor, Aspire Turf said that the American grass seed provides a more robust playing surface. Without the proper grass seed, the playing surface wouldn’t keep together in Qatar’s environment and conditions.

Patents in a Football Game

Since its inception, football has seen many changes, and unsurprisingly, intellectual property rights have had a substantial impact on those advancements. An idea of playing a game as such cannot be patented. But there are many peripheral aspects and equipments that can be patented.

Now imagine you are watching a football match and it is getting cold. You want a chair that would not turn ice-cold, wouldn’t you?

Metal benches can rapidly become unpleasant, as every seasoned football fan knows. Thank goodness Francis H. Chute came up with a remedy in 1961 that he termed the “FOLDABLE STADIUM CHAIR” (U.S Patent №3,066,980). Chute’s chair can be fastened to any stadium bench seating and gives some comfort to the harsh bleachers. Due to this development, many people may now enjoy sporting events for longer periods of time and fewer hurting backs.

Design patent: The design of a product has a significant impact on the sports industry. Design plays a role in the distinct identity of sporting events, teams, and their equipment in the fiercely competitive sports market.

Designs have a crucial part in providing economic value, making the product or the event more desirable and marketable, and it makes a product and a sporting event more attractive and appealing to consumers. We are all willing to pay a little bit more for a design that expresses our way of life and philosophy. Businesses can use industrial design rights or design patents to safeguard the investment they make in creating novel, appealing designs. Like a football of a particular brand may be protected to keep it safe from other brands that might want to copy it. U.S. Patent №2,182,053 (“‘053 invention”), which is named “play or game ball,” is one patent that protects the actual ball used in football. The football’s form is one of its distinctive qualities. The ball’s form distinguishes it from other sports balls in terms of aerodynamics. The 053 patent discloses and details the special shape of the football. The stitching of the ball is another another feature disclosed and explained in the ‘053 patent.

Football pads are yet another essential component for the game of football. The user is protected and suffers less damage after a high impact thanks to the pads. In U.S. Patent №1,094,865 (the “‘865 patent”), an early design for football pads was disclosed. It’s possible that the materials used to produce an older generation of football pads differed slightly from those used to make them now. More specifically, the football pads described in the ‘865 patent state that “the [football pads] are essentially non-stretching material such as thick khaki or canvas,” and that “the foundation of the [football pads] is a close fitting sleeved jacket.”

Nike files the most patents in the domain given its hold over the sports market globally. Many brand collaborations and advertisements are seen where Nike sponsors a lot of players and teams. This strategic partnerships have led Nike to have a monopoly in the world of sports. Undoubtedly, innovation is nothing new for Nike. It is what made the brand, which is possibly the most recognisable in the world, what it is today. Their signature football cleat, the Mercurial, is one of Nike’s most known items. The company utilises the Mercurial as a canvas, gathering its most daring inventions and fusing them together like a Frankenstein-style sneaker.

Early on (1800), Americans chose football as their most popular and significant sport. Since then, football has been used to represent American values, passions, and national identity. No doubt most of the activities related to football and a majority of IP can be seen there. China is currently 79th in the FIFA world rankings and has only ever participated in one World Cup (2002). But China is seeing a growth in the sports sector and football seems to be one of the most rapidly growing sports in China.

Conclusion

Football is a simple, universal sport. There is therefore a vast potential and a vast array of rights that need to be protected. Many equipments that have utility in football are rightly protected under patents. Brand collaborations, credibility and brand value go hand in hand. Trademarking these aspects and protecting them is of utmost importance. It is undoubtedly a contentious issue to grant sports moves intellectual property rights. The switch from web2 to web3 promises to create a wide range of financial options for football clubs, whether through retail, sponsorship, or media rights. We are living in a transformative era. However, it is more important than ever for sporting organisations to safeguard their intellectual property.

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Copperpod is one of world's leading intellectual property research and technology consulting firms.