World IP Day by Nick March

World IP Day – Reach for Gold

In celebration of World IP Day’s theme of innovation in sports, we’ve taken a look at the inventors, academics and innovators old and new that have pushed the boundaries of competitive and recreational sport, helping athletes in their drive to attain exceptional feats of human achievement.

Finding an edge over your opponents is an integral part of any competitive sport. That edge can come through technology, psychology, equipment design or even smart nutrition. It might be the incremental gains so successful for UK cycling, or a psychological approach that yields a mental advantage. Perhaps it’s new ways of tracking and coaching players; refereeing technology that puts controversial decisions beyond doubt, or even an invention that makes sport accessible to new players and audiences. There are a myriad of ways that innovation advances sporting achievements. Here are a few of our favourite old and new inventions that impacted the sporting world:

The Lawnmower: until the invention of the mechanised lawnmower by Gloucestershire engineer Edwin Beard Budding, in 1827, manicured lawns were the preserve of the very rich.  Budding’s invention, which he patented three years later, meant that suitable surfaces for sports such as football, cricket and tennis were available to a far wider range of people and the democratisation and popularisation of these sports began.

Carb rinsing: It’s not the most pleasant thing to watch, but the regular swilling and spitting that was particularly notable at last year’s FIFA World Cup is more than just an unsociable habit. Academic research carried out at the University of Hertfordshire, among other institutions, found that athletes gain greater performance  and cognitive advantages when they rinse their mouths with electrolyte drinks without swallowing them.

Hawk-Eye: Dr Paul Hawkins’ Hawkeye technology was invented in 1999 and has been a regular feature of tennis and cricket tournaments for decades, but was relatively slow to gain traction in football. It was eventually adopted in the Premier League at a Community Shield match in 2013 and went mainstream the following season. The technology tracks the position and trajectory of a ball, player or car (think F1) with pinpoint accuracy, making “dodgy line calls” a thing of the past.

“Sharkskin” swimsuits: Occasionally, an innovation offers so much competitive edge that it is itself deemed anti-competitive. Such was the case with the “sharkskin” high tech bodysuits that came to prominence in the 2008 Sydney Olympics. More than 130 World Records were broken during 2008-2009 as the suits’ biomimicry of shark skin allowed swimmers to produce less drag than human skin. The international swimming governing body FINA voted to ban the use of full body suits in official competition beginning in 2010 and today the use of high technology swimwear and the amount of body suits are permitted to cover is regulated.

In future we’ll see increasing innovation around intelligent digital sports apparel, with built-in fitness tracking sensors that use IoT to generate reams of data about the athlete as they perform. There’ll also be advances in wear-ability and, as you might expect, some of the biggest brands are leading the charge. Nike this week filed a patent application for the word “Footware”, a combination of footwear and software, which is a sign that the company is planning to focus on digital smart footwear. Already, Nike has made good on the futuristic promise it made in ‘Back to the Future’ as self-lacing trainers have finally become reality!

Our global obsession with sports shows no signs of waning, and as long as athletes are seeking to win and push the boundaries of human achievement, there’ll be a role for innovation and accompanying intellectual property protection. Whether its advances in the sports themselves, or the brand associations and sponsorship deals that surround our beloved tournaments and competitions, IP rights and their intelligent application have an essential role to play in delivering sport for elite and recreational athletes, and entertainment for all.

 

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