Mar 17,2023 | 11 min read

Role of IPR in Sports Sector

The domain of Intellectual Property Rights has a vast reach within the world of sports, encompassing nearly every aspect of the industry. This includes Patents, which incentivize the development of innovative technologies that enhance sporting equipment. Trademarks and designs play a crucial role in establishing the unique identity of events, teams, and their merchandise. Meanwhile, Copyright-based rights generate the necessary revenue streams for broadcasters to finance the expensive endeavor of airing sports events to global audiences.


Copyright in Sports Industry

The Copyrights Act, 1957 includes multiple provisions that enable the safeguarding of various elements of sporting events, such as the artwork linked to logos, slogans, and trademarks. Should the author's artwork be unlawfully reproduced, the Copyright Act offers civil remedies outlined in Section 55 of the Act. These remedies comprise Permanent, Temporary, Interlocutory, and Mareva Injunctions, Anton Pillar Orders, Accounts of Profits or Damages, and Litigation Costs. Additionally, the Act offers criminal remedies under Section 63, which entail imprisonment that may extend to three years and a fine.

The evolution of communication technologies, including satellites, cable, broadband, and mobile internet, has transformed the landscape of sports coverage, enabling people worldwide to partake in the exhilaration of major sporting events. In the case of Espn Star Sports v Global Broadcast News Ltd. and Ors, it was established that copyright protection, as outlined in Sections 13 and 14 of the Copyright Act, only applies to "work" and does not encompass "broadcasts." Consequently, the telecast of live events communicated to the public only enjoys the protection of broadcasters' rights, which are distinct and separate from copyright, as specified under Section 37 of the Copyright Act.

Challenges arise when an individual, who possesses a legitimate ticket to a match or sporting event, captures photos and videos and proceeds to profit from them by selling or uploading them online or streaming them live on their website. Broadcasters of sports events in the UK are entitled to copyright protection of transmitted programmes as broadcast works. As a result, fans who record, edit, upload, and/or share clips of live sporting action from broadcast footage may be infringing on the broadcaster's copyright. However, the situation differs in India.


Patents in Sports Industry

According to WIPO, "Patents encourage technological advances that result in better sporting equipment.". While athletes, sports enthusiasts, and teams endeavor to establish new records, secure championships, or merely enjoy themselves, patents showcase innovative technology that can aid athletes in overcoming challenges or enhance the accessibility and entertainment value of sports for the general public. Patents associated with sports can be viewed from various perspectives. For instance, initially, basketball was played using a football but later evolved and received a patent in 1929. Similarly, television viewership of hockey games was hampered by low visibility and puck distortion, leading to a decline in its popularity. However, a method to increase the visibility of the hockey puck for television audiences was patented in 1996. Hence, any technological advancements made in the field of sports are eligible for patent protection.

Regarding India's stance on patenting moves of a game, Section 3(m) of the Indian Patent Act explicitly prohibits the granting of patents for "a mere scheme or rule or method of performing mental act or method of playing a game." As a result, India is not currently open to patenting sports or the associated moves, unlike the United States, which permits the patenting of anything, as outlined in the Diamond v. Chakraborty case.


Trademarks in Sports Industry

Trademarks play a crucial role in the sports industry. The process of branding involves creating distinctive features such as logos, marks, slogans, and taglines, among others. The brand value associated with the team name, sports clubs, players, and merchandise builds a strong association with the public, particularly fans, which ultimately helps to boost the popularity of the team or athlete. Section 135 of the Trademarks Act, 1999 offers both civil and criminal remedies for infringement or passing off. Breach of a trademark is a serious offense and can result in criminal proceedings against the infringer.


Trade Secret in Sports Industry

The trade secrets of a team include confidential strategies, compounds in their gear, and dietary ingredients that provide them with a competitive edge. Protecting these secrets is crucial to prevent other teams or players from gaining an unfair advantage. Data analysis is also considered a trade secret as it involves studying the opponents' past performances to identify their weaknesses and strengths. This information, also known as big-data, is highly valued in the US and UK where new laws have been introduced to safeguard it. Although India does not have a specific trade secret law, it recognizes the importance of protecting such information.


Personality Rights

The rise of sports as a global industry has led to an increase in the importance of athletes' image rights. Famous athletes like Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni have become so well-known that their names are considered trademarks. Businesses associate their products with these celebrity athletes and support sporting events to enhance their brand image. Athletes have the right of publicity or personality rights which prevent unauthorized use of their names and other attributes. The brand image and reputation of athletes are then monetized through advertisements, brand ambassadorship and sponsorships.

In India, personality rights are not explicitly recognized. Instead, they are typically invoked through the Right to Privacy provided by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution or through the Right to Publicity implied by Article 19. Personality rights are typically safeguarded either as an individual's property or as their right to privacy.


Merchandise Counterfeiting

The Trade Marks Act of 1999 provides both civil and criminal remedies that can be used simultaneously in cases of infringement and passing off. In the Skechers USA Inc & Ors v. Pure Play Sports case, the plaintiffs introduced a line of footwear called 'SKECHERS GOwalk' in 2011. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant had introduced and were selling footwear that was an exact copy of their GOwalk 3 series. The Delhi High Court ultimately granted an interim injunction in favor of the plaintiffs.


Ambush Marketing

Ambush Marketing, a type of marketing strategy, involves promoting products or brands through association with a team, league, or event without actually sponsoring or paying for such association. It has become a major concern in the sports industry, and protection against it is one of the crucial aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. Since there is no specific law to address the issue, courts often face difficulty in dealing with cases related to ambush marketing in sports.

During the IPL season or cricket world cup, various restaurants, hotels, and e-commerce websites offer attractive discounts and deals that can be obtained by using coupon codes that include the name of the league or event. For example, 'IPL20' to get a 20% discount on merchandise at Printavenue, similarly 'HAPPYIPL' is used by Ola, and 'YOCWC' is used by Yo China!. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has resorted to naming and shaming techniques during public press conferences to combat ambush marketing.



The sports industry has become a lucrative commercial enterprise by leveraging various forms of intellectual property rights (IPR). The latest trend in commercial sports emphasizes the importance of protecting key IPR aspects, such as trademarks, copyright, design, licensing, and franchising. To ensure the financial interests of all stakeholders are safeguarded, it is essential to establish legal contracts that secure all types of intellectual property arising from sporting events, teams, and individual athletes.




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