Updated November 17, 2020:

Sports Patents Overview

How to patent a sport may not be a question that many people think of, but in the realm of intellectual property, it is a legitimate question, nonetheless. Sports themselves cannot be patented, since they are ideas, and one cannot patent, trademark, or copyright an idea, but there are many aspects of sports that may be patented in accordance with the regulations of the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office.

Sports Business and Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is any creation to which one has the right to ownership, and IP rights are integral to the success of a sport, since they are what secure its economic value, which in turn stimulates a sport’s growth, allowing it to finance large-scale sporting events and promote the sport further. Business transactions involving merchandising, sponsorship, broadcasting, and other media deals help the sport do this, and they all revolve around IP rights.

IP rights include trademark and copyright protection, which in the case of sports, are especially important insofar as they, if leveraged correctly, can help a sport build a strong brand, that is critical to creating business value. A strong brand will create customer loyalty, which in turn allows prices to be kept at a premium, which makes it a strong asset for driving the growth and revenue of a sport. Logo design, equipment design, and the general quality of all things related to the sport, both in the material and presentation sense (broadcasting and viewing experience quality, for example), are all important in building a brand and strengthening the value of a sport thereby.

Patenting a Sport

Although an idea for a sport cannot be patented itself, there are other actions you can take involving patents to ensure that one’s idea is, in a roundabout way, effectively patented. The following steps can help you do this:

  1. First, you should determine if your sport has ever been played before, thereby to determine whether your idea is truly original or not.
  2. If it has, you can have the rules of your sport copyrighted. To do this, you will need to become the author of the rules, which can be done by simply writing them down. Since copyright is immediately established for authors, you do not even technically need to publish your rules, although placing them in some public forum, even on a web page or in a web video, will certainly help strengthen your ownership of them.
  3. If your sport has logos, uniforms, or unique names or terms related to it, these can all be trademarked.
  4. If your sport requires new equipment, that equipment can be patented, so long as that equipment meets U.S. patent requirements. Methods of using the equipment, including methods of play and sporting events, may also be patented.

Examples of Sports Patents

By U.S. copyright law, almost any aspect of a sport that is not the idea of the sport itself can be patented, or at least have an attempt made to patent it. The following are two examples of this:

  1. Modified Chess Game with Additional Game Pieces. This is the name of U.S. Patent 9643079, which is a variant on the traditional game of chess in which a new piece, called “the beast,” can both block enemy pieces and allow friendly pieces to pass through it or bounce off it (a knight, for example, could change direction mid-move through the beast). This patent was granted because it is qualified as a “new and useful process,” one of the criteria for patent protection.
  2. Fowling. This is the name of a combination of football and bowling, yet its inventor’s attempts to have a trademark affixed to the term “Fowling” have as of yet been unsuccessful. According to the U.S Patent and Trademark Office, the name “fowling” is merely descriptive, thereby not meeting the requirements for distinctiveness and so a trademark cannot be applied. Had a trademark claim been made at the outset, it is surmised that there would have been a stronger case, but since the name was allowed to become what was judged to be a common term, the claim of distinctiveness was weakened.

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