Can You Patent a Sport?

In the sports world, many users, entities, clubs and institutions contemplate the possibility of patenting a sport. If you have the same question, read about these important factors to consider beforehand.
Can You Patent a Sport?

Last update: 28 January, 2020

For most of us, the idea of inventing a completely new sport seems unimaginable. However, we live in a time where innovations are constant. They continue to prove that creativity has no limits. That very freedom leads many inventors to wonder if they can patent a sport that they’ve created?

Before we dive into the meat of the matter, we first have to understand the fine line between industrial property and intellectual property. So, let’s start by looking at the key differences between these two concepts. This means that we can better understand how patents work.

Intellectual property and industrial property

Intellectual property and industrial property aren’t exclusive or contradictory concepts. Instead, they’re complementary and aim to protect the rights of authors, inventors, and creators. These people dedicate themselves to different activities.

Every creation is different. Thus, we need to differentiate how the rights of each invention work and establishing limits in order to protect its inventor. As you can imagine, patenting a sport is different from patenting a new construction tool or literature.

Intellectual property encompasses all material or immaterial goods that can be exploited economically. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an original work of the human mind can be intellectual property.

However, intellectual property laws put certain conditions and limits on the concession of economic exploitation rights on different inventions. The laws consider the nature or type of creation, its potential and possible risks in commercialization.

patent laws

On the other hand, industrial property is the part of intellectual property that involves patents, trademarks, utility models, commercial names and industrial designs. However, people commonly use the term “patent” to refer to both industrial or intellectual property matters.

The incorrect use of “patent” in sports

Within the sports world, we commonly see people incorrectly using the word “patent.” For example, we remember not too long ago when the media confirmed that Argentinian coach Diego Simeone planned on “patenting” certain phrases to use to motivate his players and talk about soccer.

It’s impossible to patent a phrase, language or any linguistic element. We can’t patent language because a patent is a set of exclusive rights that the state gives to the creator of the new product, process or technology in question. The product must be a result of an inventive process and have an industrial application.

For starters, a phrase or a language aren’t products or technology. Secondly, the state can’t give exclusive rights for a certain phrase to a single person as phrases are essentially combinations of everyday words for an entire population that speaks the language.

Going back to the Simeone case, he actually submitted a trademark request– not a patent– to the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office (OEPM in its original acronym). The office approved his request because they deem the following trademarkable:

“…words and word combinations, images, figures, symbols, graphics, letters, numbers and even 3D forms (wrappers, containers, product forms or their representation).”

So, can you patent a sport?

No! You can’t patent a sport for several reasons. First off, a sport is a regulated competitive activity and it isn’t a product or technology of industrial application that can be patented.

patent sports
Image: Irish Times

Furthermore, if patenting sports were possible, it could lead to a monopoly. In order to prevent that from happening, State laws guarantee equal access to sports for all citizens.

We should also mention that new games or activities don’t automatically become an official sport. The new activity in question has to gain recognition as a sport in at least one competent sports institution in order to shed its recreational activity status.

Before we wrap up, we also want to highlight that it’s impossible to patent an idea. Before applying for a patent, the applicant must materialize the idea in a pilot project, provisional product or technology. Furthermore, the applicant will only receive patent rights if his or her product is completely innovative and hasn’t entered the patent system before.

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