Role Of Intellectual Property In Sports Industry

Sports is an activity which, since time immemorial, has drawn the attention and passion of people from all over the world while also providing unlimited trade and commercial opportunities. The sports industry is responsible for creating plethora of employment opportunities while also having a major hand in creating communities of players and fans across the world. The sports industry has a growing impact on economy of the world, employment, investments in public infrastructure and so on. The sports industry is now a multi-billion-dollar industry with huge commercial opportunities and corporatization of sporting events.

Sports are ingrained in our daily lives and has become an essential part of life. We play sports to keep ourselves fit. On the other hand, we follow various sports passionately that we love. The fans’ love and support has given the major players in the sporting and other industries to invest heavily in the market and reap its numerous benefits. Through franchising, marketing, sponsorships and brand building of professional sports team, such teams have viable economic opportunities while also tagging along with various multinational companies to increase their global influence.

This is where the Intellectual Property Rights are of immense importance. They exist and vest in almost all of the components in the sports industry. The sports industry and Intellectual Property mutually benefit each other and help grow sports as business.

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), is an agency of the United Nations, based in Geneva, Switzerland actually seeks to promote creativity and innovation in economic, cultural and social strata of all the nations through an effective IP system. One of the main aims of Intellectual Property in Sports law is to protect the merchant community as it mainly applies for the manufacturing industry. WIPO not only helps in easing the protection of IP but also ensures that the benefit of the sports industry is spread far and wide. The various IPs carry commercial value for the clubs and organizations within the sports industry and cover a wide range of intangible assets such as copyright, trademark, designs, etc. These intangible assets are of great value in the sporting arena as they are a significant source of revenue for the sporting institutions. For example, sporting gears, which are a subject matter of patent, design, copyright as well as trademark. The technology used, for example, in making the swim gear or swim suit can be patented, as it is inventive in nature. The logo printed on a jersey can be subject to trademark registration. These registrations help to protect the value of the unique and innovative design of the gear and increases its marketing capabilities. Another example would the shoes used in football. Various companies like Nike, Adidas, Puma have their own way of manufacturing their shoes with their own unique, patented design. Unique factors like design, colour, shape of the shoe and so on make the product of the said company marketable and distinguishable. The audio-visual creations or any artwork made for the publicity of the shoe will also be protected. Many other aspects like merchandising, sponsorship, promotions also come under the ambit of Intellectual Property. Various sporting institutions, clubs or teams like Football Club de Barcelona, Chennai Super Kings, Real Madrid Football club, New York Yankees are some of the names which are brands in itself and are perfect examples of brand capitalization. They have a certain pull in the market which help them attract various sponsorship deals, celebrity status, attractive broadcasting and media deals etc.

With that being said, it is majorly evident that Intellectual Property is immensely important in the field of sportsand is governed by various national and international laws.

Intellectual Property and Sports: Indian and Global scenario

The sports industry has been emerging strongly over the recent years and has been gaining ground due to the popularity and massive fan following of various sports. The Indian market is a perfect opportunity to capitalize for the major players in the sports organising sector as India has come up with various marketable opportunities of its own which has raked in revenue in millions. Ideas like the Indian Premier League of cricket, one of the most popular and most watched cricketing events in the world. The IPLis an annual event which is an attractive opportunity for various entities involved in the sponsorship, broadcasting market, etc. TATA were the title sponsors of the most recent edition of IPL 2022-23 and the fee paid was around Rs. 439 crores . Just to put into perspective, the first ever IPL season’s title sponsor in 2008 was DLF who paid around Rs. 40 crores. That’s 10 times increase since the dawn of the IPL. Moreover, Disney’s Star has retained the broadcasting rights for a period of 2023-27 for over Rs. 235.75 billion.

It’s not just the cricket industry, the Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League (Football), Badminton League and so on are becoming increasingly popular and has seen a significant rise in viewership. Keeping in mind the huge amount of money involved in these sports, the Indian government, in the year 2016, introduced the National Sports Ethics Commission Bill, 2016, which aims to bring about legislative reform and help improve the integrity of sports in India.

India organised the Formula One Race successfully which has grabbed the attention of various entities within the corporate world regarding event management and branding. The planning and implementation of an event of a huge magnitude and that too successfully has put India on the map as an attractive prospect. Thus, the intellectual property rights involved like trademarks, copyright, patents have gained huge value.

Whereas in other parts of the world, in sports like football, basketball, baseball go on for the whole year and are organised by the respective country called leagues. The English Premier League of England and La Liga of Spain are some of the most famous and most watched football leagues in the world. The Major League Baseball of America is also famous.

The involvement of various Intellectual property rights like trademark, copyright, designs, patents is inevitable as the sports industry is gaining ground towards commercialisation of sports. The IPR’s along with the legal protection is immensely important to secure the economic and commercial value of the sports.

1. Copyright:

The Indian Copyright Act of 1957 protects Copyright in sports. Copyright in sports law subsist in the artwork related to a sports event, trademark, photos and images of a player, motto, slogans, promotion etc. The technological advancement has resulted in the way sports events are broadcasted and has enabled each and every one with a smartphone and internet connection to tune into coverage any and all sports. This increases the chances of sports events being illegally broadcasted through piracy. Thus, copyright coupled with neighbouring rights can provide protection against illegal and unauthorized broadcasts. The media channels actually huge sum of money for the exclusive broadcasting rights and thus it is only rightful that they protect such a huge investment against piracy.

[Image Sources : Shutter stock]

IP Right

India is a part of International Copyright Order, 1999 and Berne Convention of 1906. Thus, it is advisable to register the copyright in India as the registration certificate is an important proof of the ownership of the copyright.

On the other hand, in case the owner of copyright needs to approach the court of law for infringement of his rights, the Copyright Act provides for civil remedies in the form of damages or accounts profits, cost of legal proceedings, injunctions, etc. Infringement of copyright is a cognizable offence and the infringer may be punished with imprisonment of not less than six months but may extend to 3 years and fine of not less than Rs. 50,000 but may extend to Rs. 2,00,000. The Copyright Act also gives police, the power to register an FIR and investigate and search any premises without the court’s prior authorization.

Foreign leagues and sports are also gaining popularity among the Indian audiences. The English Premier League’s exclusive broadcasting rights were bought by Star Sports in 2013 for over $145 million for 3 years before the deal was renewed again in 2013. Last year Viacom18 bought the rights for LaLiga for 3 years as Indian audiences follow the Spanish giants, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid massively.

Pan European competitions like the Champions League has a massive fan following as the elite clubs from various European countries compete to become European Champions. Thus, huge competitions like thesehave potential of raking in a massive revenue and thus needs proper copyright protection.

2. Trademark:

The trademarks are protected under the Trademarks Act, 1999. Logos, captions, taglines, slogans, team names and etc. related to a sports events or teams or clubs which are collectively known as trademarks and hold a certain commercial value in the market are protected under the Act. These features actually create a certain connection with the fans and audiences of a sports team, any athlete, sponsors and so on and are essential to create a brand value in the market.

Symbols, team names, logos or crests of the club like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chennai Super Kings and so on have distinct name and crests which have been protected under trademark. These crests or logos are then used to create merchandise items which are then sold to earn additional revenue. Merchandise like jerseys, mugs, flags, phone cases, keychains and so on. The downside to this is the counterfeiting market is predominantly involved in producing this merchandise for cheaper prices. This where trademark laws come into picture as they protect the original owner’s rights and the infringers can be summoned to the court of law through filing an infringement suit and providing an account of profits and a permanent injunction against the selling of products by the infringers.

The celebrities or sportspersons have their own image rights as well as their names which, in some cases, have acquired the status of a trademark, for e.g., Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and so on. They are provided with the right of publicity also known as personality rights which gives them the right to prevent unauthorised use of their name and images and other personal attributes. Through these personality rights the sportspersons ear income.

In India, personality rights are not recognised. They can be invoked through Article 21 (Right to privacy) and Article 19 (Right to publicity) of the Indian Constitution. Thus, it is advisable that team owners must opt to register the team’s name, logo, slogans as trademark whereas sportspersons must opt for their names, photographs and so on to be registered as trademark. The Trade Mark Act, 1999 provides for both civil and criminal remedies for infringement as well as passing off.

3. Patents:

Patents are usually granted when there is a new invention or a new innovation, then the inventor or the innovator can get it patented. Patent can grant exclusive protection to the product. Patents can also be granted in the field of sports law for various products and procedures. There are two types of patents which are granted: Utility and Design patents. Utility patents protect functional aspect of any invention whereas on the other hand Design patents provide protects the ornamental aspect.

Training equipment and sports gears can be patented. Equipment like aquatic wheelchairs, stop-watches, golf clubs and gym equipment, swim gear used by swimmers, the procedure for making a football and so on.

In India, the duration of patent protection is 20 years. The technology used in sports nowadays are also patented. Thus, patent protection is also important in the field of sports law

Other important Intellectual Property Rights:

• Domain Names:

As internet is an easy and cost-effective method to reach out to general public, the teams and clubs must register the domain names as trademark as the Indian court interpret domain names as subject matter of trademark. WIPO provides a quick dispute resolution procedure for website domain names based on internationally accepted rules. It is also advisable that while registering for domain names the owner should also register for multiple variations of trademarks to include common and silly spelling mistakes.

• Licenses and Sponsorship:

Licenses and sponsorship play a very important role as it provides a strategic advantage to the teams and clubs in terms of commerce. Exclusivity is the key in sales and brand building. As there is a major chance of counterfeiting, the products should be adequately under the relevant agreements and contracts.


Commercialization of sports is happening on a huge scale now. The battle between teams and clubs has now moved off-pitch as well. Many teams or clubs are indulging in exploitation of their intellectual property so as to increase their outreach to the global audience and increase revenue. Proper protection of the IP’s helps the teams and associations to secure the economic value. It also gives them the right to obtain injunctions and obtain accounts of profits against the infringers.

There is a dire to need to promote the protection of IP in sports in India. It is advisable as it helps them improve their position in the market while also connecting themselves with the fans.

Author : Kaustubh Kumar, A Student at student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, in case of any query, contact us at Global Patent Filing or write back us via email at

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