Friday, April 26, 2019

World Intellectual Property Day

(Image: WIPO) World IP Day is celebrated to recognize the role of intellectual property

This article covers the role of intellectual property in sports.

What are intellectual property (IP) rights?

Intellectual property rights are rights given to persons over the creations of their minds, according to World Trade Organization. People innovate and create better goods. Aspects of improvement can be protected with intellectual property. The source and identity of goods can also be protected with intellectual property. IP provides recognition and reward to people that creates better goods.

Why 26 April?

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) is an agency of the United Nations (UN) that promotes intellectual property. In 2000, WIPO designated April 26, the day which WIPO Convention came in force in 1970 as World IP Day. This marks an important day as members of UN have an international body to develop and harmonise intellectual property practice. WIPO provides a platform to raise intellectual property agenda for developing countries.

World IP Day is celebrated to highlight the role of intellectual property in encouraging innovation and creativity. Last year, the theme of ‘Women in Innovation and Creativity’ was celebrated.

What is the role of intellectual property in sports innovation?

Modern golf originates from medieval Scotland. In 1618, James Melvill, a golf ball maker get a 21-year monopoly to make golf balls. Melvill’s golf ball was made of cow or horsehide stuffed with feathers. However, the ball is useless when it got wet. It was also labour intensive to make the ball.
In 1843, Robert Paterson invented gutta percha ball that lower the cost of golf balls. It also lasted longer and less vulnerable to moisture. It increased the popularity of golf as a sport. Gutta percha is a form of latex from Malaysian forest. 

In 1899, Coburn Haskell obtained a patent for rubber wound ball. The ball was made of solid rubber wound core that was covered by gutta percha. 

The surface of golf ball is smooth until 1905, when William Taylor introduced the idea of dimple markings on golf balls in GB patent 190518668. The dimple pattern maximizes lift while minimizing drag. The dimple markings were adopted in all golf balls.

Illustration of GB patent 190518668 by William Taylor

In 1963, James Bartsch filled a patent for a one piece ball, replacing gutta percha and rubber. The golf ball has undergone various innovations. Patents provide acknowledgement and incentive to inventors. Notice that golf balls were used to be made of Malaysia gutta percha and rubber.
The function of a new product can be protected by a patent while the appearance of a new product can be protected by industrial design.

Balls in football used to look like basketball before Adidas introduced the Telstar ball in Euro 1968. The Telstar has 32-panel leather ball with white hexagons and black pentagons that bore resemblance to Telstar satellite. The striking black and white arrangement made the sports enjoyable over television. As a FIFA sponsor, Adidas introduces a new ball for each World Cup. Adidas introduced Tango ball, another classic ball in 1978.

  (Image: Adidas) Evolution of ball design for FIFA World Cup

How does sports innovation affect me?

The human foot is a complex biomechanical machine. Foot tendon and bone need to withstand daily human activity. Today, most shoes are bought based on the length of heel to toe. Charles Brannock has a better way to measure foot fit.

In 1927, Brannock filed a patent for foot measuring instrument, which was granted as US patent 1725334. Other than the length of heel to toe, the device measures arch length and the width of the foot. These two parameters can enhance comfort and fit of shoe. With proper fit, athlete can focus on their activity with greater confidence and performance. The Brannock measuring device is still being used in shoe retail store, worldwide. Do you know the arch length and width of your foot?

Illustration of US patent 1725334 by Charles Brannock. The device is positioned to measure length of heel to toes as 9, arch length of right foot as 9 and foot width A.

The Brannock device is used to measure foot fit when a person is standing. It is used to measure the right or left foot, one at a time, which is placed on two opposite ends. To measure right heel, the right heel is placed on the label right heel. The length of heel to toe is measured based on the position of the longest toe. Then, the arch length is measured based on the position of ball joint, which is the widest part of the foot. A lever is moved to the position of the ball joint and read. In the illustration, the device is positioned to measure length of heel to toe as 9 and arch length of the right foot as 9. The width lever of the device is moved to position 9. The width of the foot is observed as A.

Research is important to support innovation. Japan spends 3% of GDP in research and development, according to UNESCO. Korea and China, which seeks to imitate Japan’s success spends 4% and 2% of GDP in research and development, respectively. Huawei became a 5G leader by spending 12% to 15% of its annual revenue in research and development. Malaysia spends 1.3% compared to world average 1.7% of GDP in research and development. I hope that Malaysia government and companies increase expenditure in research and development.

How does intellectual property support sports activity?

FIFA organizes world cup every four years. FIFA World Cup is probably the most watched television program in the world. There are many brands involved in this sports activity. FIFA and FIFA World Cup are protected by trademark. Sponsors of sports such as Adidas, Puma and Nike brands are protected by trademark. Brands provide a link between the producer and consumer. Brands are protected by trademark. 

Sports club brand such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid are also protected by trademark.
Trademarks can be licensed to create merchandise. Fans of sports usually buy a particular brand to indicate sense of relationship towards the brand. The fan would not hesitate to proudly show use of products with such brand.

Sports venue has limited seats. Popular sports event have valuable broadcast to reach many fans. The popularity of particular sports event is in direct proportion with the value of a broadcast. When an activity has high broadcast or reach, sponsors will come knocking on the door for product placement.
Rupert Murdoch recognises the value of sports broadcast. He promoted the English Premier League broadcast to the world which directly affects the fortunes of clubs in the league.

Local sports in Malaysia have followers. Sports association can make use of its intellectual property to gain fans, broadcast and sponsors. Sports managers should realise the potential of intellectual property.

I was a school quartermaster in Sekolah Aminuddin Baki, Kuala Lumpur. We organised annual sports event for sports club and raised substantial money for the sports activity. The trophy of event, Piala Tuan Haji Mokhtar, was named after the school principal. 

We know how to admire good quality brands. Have it occurred that we can develop our own brand? How much are we willing to invest in developing own brand?

Forty years ago, more than 80% value of S&P 500 companies lie in tangible assets. Buildings, land, cash and inventory are physical things known as tangible assets that investors have faith. Common folks would not have trouble to understand and invest in tangible asset for income or growth appreciation. Today, less than 20% value of S&P 500 companies lie in tangible assets. According to Ocean Tomo, a merchant bank, the role of tangible assets as investment choice is replaced by intangible assets, including intellectual property. Shall we increase investment in intellectual property?

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