Intellectual Property in Sports

8th July 2019
Have we stopped romanticizing sports, teams and other entities? The commercial aspect of sports is increasingly important. In this article, we're going to discuss intellectual property in sports.

The times when sports matches and competitions were seen in an emotional way have been left behind. During a match or a competition, there was always a certain irrational fanaticism, the “love” of the fans towards their favorite teams or athletes was all that mattered. Intellectual property and everything that this concept implies was something that didn’t previously have a place in sports.

The idea of intellectual property was never a topic for conversation; however, since the second half of the 20th Century, this has changed in a relatively progressive manner. It’s something that has increased with the arrival of television and live broadcasts.

Since the era of the television, sporting events have acquired massive amounts of viewers, transcending far beyond the stadium. Regional and national borders have since been blurred, and now almost all sports matches have reached global status.

Beyond sports

The ever-increasing presence of intellectual property in sports is nothing more than a “natural” extension of how this concept has already established itself in the daily lives of practically everybody on earth.

From the moment we open our eyes and get out of bed until the moment we return to our rooms at the end of the day, we continuously interact with objects, products, and utensils governed by rules of copyright or a patent.

Patent laws were indeed born to protect creators. Patents are meant to make sure that the creators receive the economic benefits derived from their inventions, innovations, or designs.

However, while these regulations have become stronger, a lucrative “industry” has been built around it.

Sadly, the “romantics” claim that sports of the 21st Century have lost their original essence and have sold-out to big corporations.

Those who are more pragmatic argue that the ability for intellectual property to generate resources is what’s enabled sports to reach its current level of massification and modernization. In any case, the globalization of sports wouldn’t have been possible without the intervention of intellectual property.

The extent of intellectual property in sports

The scope of intellectual property as a concept in sports seems to have no limits. In fact, virtually everything that includes practicing any kind of physical activity is under the protection of a patent.

This aspect becomes even more noticeable in professional sports. You just need some illustrative examples: no television event in the world generates more income than the Super Bowl.

Moreover, teams such as Real Madrid or the New York Yankees are among the most valuable brands in the world.

And people such as Roger Federer or Cristiano Ronaldo, along with other outstanding athletes, worthy of awards and records, are also trademarked.

Even player’s names are as valuable and profitable as brands such as Nike or Adidas.

Patents, trademarks, designs, and copyright

Sneakers represent one of the most illustrative examples of everything that intellectual property controls in sports. And this is just a small sample:

  • Patents: grant the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or importing an invention without the inventor’s consent. Basically, it prevents other brands from replicating the materials or techniques used to create a product. Besides, they’re usually quite specific. After all, a running shoe will never have the same design as a football shoe.

  • Design: the aesthetic and visual part (the appearance and its differential features) must also be protected. The colors and figures are a vital part of sports marketing.
  • The brand: this is perhaps the most obvious element. Some companies have built a reputation that they’ll always look after.
  • Copyright: more than the article itself, this section monitors all the advertising strategies used to “sell” the shoe, and that includes everything, from the slogan or the phrases used, to the graphics and audiovisual materials.

Nowadays, having intellectual property behind the creation of these products is increasingly important in sports. Because of this, there is already a draft bill to update the current legislation.

  • Congreso de los Diputados. XII Legislatura. Anteproyecto Ley sobre la Propiedad Intelectual. BOE: 1996. Extraído de: http://www.congreso.es/public_oficiales/L12/CONG/BOCG/A/BOCG-12-A-21-7.PDF
  • Dionisio Chanzá Jordán. Ciencia y deporte. La naturaleza jurídica privada del derecho deportivo. Extraído de: https://www.cienciadeporte.com/images/congresos/madrid/Organizacion%20y%20Gestion%20Deportiva/Derecho%20del%20Deporte/LA%20NATURALEZA%20JUR%C3%8DDICA.pdf