International News

Jun 18, 2014

Kicking It IP Style

(How Intellectual Property (IP) has influenced the football boots industry)

By Steve Mc Ewan

Soccer Boot with flags of varous countries

The design and comfort of soccer/football boots have improved significantly during the past decades. In the early 19th century, British football players used their heavy steel toe capped work boots to play soccer games. The first company manufactured soccer boots were plain, dull and very uncomfortable for footballers. In contrast to this, the modern soccer boot is aerodynamically designed, light weight and customised to match the attributes of modern day soccer players. The manufacturers of these modern day soccer boots rely on the Intellectual Property (IP) system for protection of the design, technology and innovation used in their products.

Some of you may be wondering what is IP? IP can be defined as the expressed creations of the human mind. There are two types of IP rights: Copyright and Related Rights and Industrial Property Rights. Copyright is a property right which subsists in original literary and artistic works. Related rights are property rights which subsist in performances, sound recordings and broadcasts. Industrial Property Rights protect trademarks, patents, industrial designs and geographic indications.

Trademarks play an important role in the soccer boot manufacturing industry. A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one trader from those of other traders. People as well as companies use trademarks to protect the reputation of their brand and prevent counterfeiting of their merchandise. For example, the Nike “Swoosh” is one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world. An application was filed for the “Swoosh” trademark by Nike in 1974.This trademark was used on a Nike soccer boot, for the first time, in the 1994 World Cup. Like Nike, Adidas and Puma also use trademarks, such as the Adidas “Three Stripe” logo and the Puma “Leaping cat” logo, to differentiate their soccer boots from other competitors.

In addition to their company trademarks, football boot manufacturers have also filed and received trademarks for the names of their soccer boots. For instance, in October 2013, Nike filed for a trademark for the ‘Magista’ name on its newest soccer boot. Also, Adidas has filed and received a trademark for the name of its “Predator” soccer boot. Professional soccer players have also realised that they can use trademarks to their advantage. Cristiano Ronaldo is really kicking it IP style. He has filed applications for trademarks for his CR7 nickname, and “love to win, hate to lose” heart-with-cross logo. These trademarks are inscribed on his Mercurial Nike soccer boot. His new soccer boot deal with Nike, is expected to earn him a whopping £40M over the next five years.

Patents also make an important contribution to the development of football. A patent is the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to use, manufacture or sell an invention for a certain number of years. Patents protect the IP of the patent owner and help encourage economic and technological development. The case involving the Adidas “Predator” football boot illustrates how patents protect the IP of patent holders. The ball-directing striped-line zone on the front of the Adidas “Predator” was developed and patented by László Oroszi, a Hungarian inventor. In 2014, a Hungarian court decided that Adidas had to pay royalties to Mr. Oroszi for copying his technology, without his consent, in the design of the “Predator” soccer boot.

Major soccer boot manufacturers have utilised the IP system to file applications for patents.  Recently, Puma has filed an application for the Aptolast technology used in its soccer boots. This technology is designed to improve the fit of a football boot to a soccer player’s foot. Adidas has recently filed an application for a patent for “An outsole and sports shoe”. This technology is designed to be a lightweight footwear for soccer players. Nike has filed a patent for “An article of footwear that can receive an insert having ball control elements”. The special insert on the soccer boot is designed to provide additional power and control for players when kicking a soccer ball.

Industrial designs are also a major part of the football boot manufacturing industry. Industrial designs are the visual and non-functional aspects of a useful product. The visual aspects of an industrial design can be either three-dimensional (the shape of the object) or two-dimensional (lines, designs, patterns and colours). Industrial Design Rights offer protection to the owner of the industrial design for a limited period of time. Soccer boot manufacturers have utilised the IP system to file applications for their industrial designs. For instance, Adidas has filed an application for the industrial design of its “Predator” soccer boot.

As a result of trademarks and brand competition, footballers are able to receive new sources of revenue from endorsements and sponsorship deals from the major boot manufacturing companies such as Puma. Given the relatively short career span of a professional footballer, this revenue will ensure that they are able to survive financially after their career ends. Moreover, the protection of patents and industrial designs has allowed soccer boot manufacturers to develop more innovative football boots and benefit financially from their inventions. In this regard, all stakeholders in the soccer/football discipline owe a great deal of gratitude to the IP system. As such, every time a professional footballer dons his soccer boot, he is indeed getting ready to kick it IP style.