On World IP Day - Celebrating and Protecting Sports and their Brands | Citizens Against Government Waste

On World IP Day - Celebrating and Protecting Sports and their Brands

The WasteWatcher

Each year, April 26 marks the celebration of World IP Day, when the importance of intellectual property rights and the achievements gained from its protection are recognized.  According to the Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) intellectual property (IP) contributes $6.6 trillion to America’s GDP.  In 2019, the World IP Day celebration focuses on sports and the IP that enables past, present, and future athletes to compete and meet their goals.

The most recognizable sports IP is the iconic branding and trademarks of sports teams and the various companies that supply their equipment.  Beyond these rights, the sporting industry holds hundreds of thousands of utility patents; copyrights for literature, broadcasts, media rights, and software for computer and online games; and, trade secrets that protect the proprietary information about the sports industry including new features of sporting gear, statistical analysis, scouting reports, dietary regimens, and psychological assessments for athletes.

Figuring out the secret sauce to athletic success requires more than just talent; it requires training, knowledge, and the equipment necessary to perform a given sport.  In June 2018, GIPC noted that the golf industry holds 112,256 golf-related patents; Fitbit holds more than 90 patents; and Zumba holds more than 50 patents.  Callaway Golf spends tens of millions of dollars researching and designing new products each year, and files more than 100 U.S. patent applications annually on various equipment and accessories, including woods and drivers, as well as golf bags and gloves. 

For sporting teams, branding is a critical component for success as part of its identity to fans around the world.  According to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, the sale and trafficking of counterfeit sports merchandise, apparel and tickets is a multi-million dollar criminal industry, with Operation Team Player which resulted in the seizure of more than 450,000 counterfeited items worth over $39 million prior to Super Bowl 50 in 2016, and the seizure of nearly 285,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $24.2 million prior to Super Bowl LIII in 2019.  Counterfeit goods seized by law enforcement have included fake jerseys, hats, cellphone accessories, and other bogus items to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.  This activity can be particularly heightened during major annual events like March Madness, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Super Bowl, and the World Series.

Celebrating World IP Day with a focus on the sports industry is cause for celebration, but also a day for caution against predatory counterfeiters who prey on consumers’ desire to associate with a specific sports team; watch sporting events such as the Olympics or World Series in the comfort of their living rooms; or play games using branded sports apparel and equipment.  While efforts like Operation Team Player can provide some relief from those would exploit these activities, consumers should always be on alert to the potential for counterfeits in the marketplace.