Sports and Intellectual Property

Millions of spectators from various countries participate in the tournaments organized around the world every year. In this context, marketing, advertising, and branding sports events have gained great importance. Sport teams and sports personalities are looked at as big business opportunities. Intellectual property is also becoming increasingly important in this growing industry.










To recap briefly, intellectual property (IP) refers to an umbrella term used to describe creations of the mind and includes patents, trademarks, artistic works, trade secrets, copyrights, designs, etc. When IP is specifically examined for sports, it can be seen that patents can be used for the development of sports equipment; trademarks, brands, and designs can be used to define the unique personality of a team or sporting event; and copyrights play a role in conveying sports events to their audience through media.

This blog article will look at the various forms of IP that may be found in the world of sports. The aim is to give a short overview.

1. Sports Trademarks

When we think of the Olympics, do we not all remember the brand consisting of five hoops? When buying the uniform of the football team we support, does not the team's logo appear on it? When we hear the slogan "Impossible is nothing", don we not think of Adidas, whose logo consists of 3 stripes? These are some examples of trademarks that are being used in sports. One of the most common intellectual properties associated with sports is a trademark. Trademarks can be names, captions, symbols, numbers, colors, shapes, sounds, etc. They allow the customer to recognize the product and understand which company the product belongs to. In addition to providing a manner of identification, trademarks can also add to the value of a mark when used in various forms such as merchandise, sponsorships, etc. To determine a franchise's brand equity, ads and sponsorships are typically linked to trademarks.

When we think about the logo of the FC Bayern München Football Team. The logo comprises three colors: red, blue, and white. The texts on the logo are written in a certain font, and the width and length proportions of the logo were determined. This is the trademark of FC Bayern München, an important asset that, if used successfully, helps consumers develop trust, confidence, and loyalty in a product, which, for example, can be the uniform of the team. In addition, a trademark in general, especially a famous one like FC Bayern München trademark, has an incredible economic value.

In general, trademark protection is created by applying for a trademark at a trademark office. However, in some countries (e.g. USA), protection is also created by mere use of the mark. Once registered, they may be used for an endless period of time if renewed, usually every then years. The Madrid System, which is used by a United Nations agency, the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) to register international trademarks, enables trademark owners to submit a single application for registration across numerous jurisdictions and to maintain and renew their marks using a single process. Currently, there are 114 Contracting Parties covering 130 countries (status: 24 November 2022) Member States to the Madrid Protocol/Agreement.

2. Sports Patents

Sports technologists have used their creativity, innovation, and expertise to create better, safer equipment in the pursuit of sporting success. For instance, new high-tech materials used to create stronger and lighter athletic footwear have allowed football athletes all over the world to achieve new levels of success while reducing the danger of injury. Patents protect these inventive sports technologies under the IP system. Sports patents include gym equipment, sportswear, energy drinks, nutritional supplements, etc. For the duration of the patent, which is typically 20 years, it prevents an innovation from being used without permission by a third party.

Patents are territorial, just as other intellectual property rights are; they only have legal standing in the nation or territory in which they were granted. Thus, obtaining patent protection across numerous nations may be time-consuming and costly. Inventors can start the process of securing patent protection in individual countries or in several nations by submitting a single international application under WIPO's Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

3. Designs in Sports

Designing a product in a way that appeals to consumers has a crucial role in enhancing its commercial worth and increasing its marketability in a highly competitive market. In order to create designs that are successful and adapt to shifting consumer preferences, businesses devote significant resources and experience. For example, some textiles are designed to provide insulation and protection against wind and water, qualities that are crucial for athletes competing in colder areas.

Sports-related products with unique 2D or 3D shapes are protected by design legislation, which is a significant source of IP protection in the sports sector. To be protected by law, an industrial design must typically be registered. Protection, however, is only offered in the nation in which the design is registered. The Hague System of the WIPO offers secure protection for an industrial design across several nations. Companies can protect themselves from lookalikes and fake products by registering their designs and acquiring intellectual property rights over them.

4. Copyright and Broadcasting Rights in Sports

Of course, it is not a coincidence that nobody is out on the streets on the days of big games! Everyone is either attending the game in person or watching it on television. This allows billions of people all over the world to experience the thrill of major sporting events at the same time. The sale of broadcasting and media rights has become the primary source of income for the majority of sports organizations, providing the money required to support major athletic events.

The connection between sport and television and other media is supported by copyright and related rights. Broadcasters have exclusive rights for 20 years to permit rebroadcasting, recording, reproduction, and public communication of their broadcasts under the Rome Convention, which was signed in 1961 and is for the protection of performers, producers of phonograms, and broadcasting organizations. The creation of an international legal framework that effectively and appropriately guards against broadcast signal piracy is the goal of ongoing WIPO negotiations.

5. Licensees in Sports

Licensing and merchandising enable fans to support a sporting event by providing them with actual, officially licensed products. Caps, t-shirts, mugs, shoes, toys, lighters, and other items are among the most typical and well-liked merchandise options. So, IP right owners who hold patents, trademarks, and copyrights may provide licenses to third parties in exchange for payment. Without giving ownership of the intellectual property, licenses give rights for technology usage, publishing and entertainment, merchandising, and trademark use.

6. IP and Dispute Resolution in Sports

In the area of intellectual property and sports, disputes may arise over sports broadcasting and media, licensing and merchandising rights for important sporting events, and commercial exploitation of athletes' image rights, among other issues. The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center offers alternative dispute resolution (ADR) guidance and case administration services as part of the WIPO ADR Services for Specific Sectors to assist parties in resolving disputes arising in the areas of intellectual property (IP) and sports without resorting to court litigation.


IP is used to characterize all types of mental works, including patents, trademarks, literary and artistic creations, trade secrets, copyrights, and designs, and can be used to create sports gear, trademarks, branding, and designs, as well as to establish the distinctive character of a team or sporting occasion. Protecting intellectual property rights holders' interests and avoiding harm to them are crucial. Legal protection of IP rights is achieved through registrations that can be made locally or internationally.

            For more information, please see the link below for the WIPO brochure "Reference Guide to Sustaining Sport and its Development through Intellectual Property Rights":