United States: Sports Technology: Recent Patents And New Innovations

Last Updated: January 8 2014
Article by Safet Metjahic and Sean Kim

From golf balls to football blocking sleds, sports innovators have created better and safer sports equipment, improved and more precise performance measuring technologies, and superior and more effective training methodologies that have helped world-class athletes shatter world records. Patents can be a useful tool to gain insight into cutting edge technologies and methodologies, and to predict what could become available in the future.

In this article we will provide an overview of some of the innovations for which patents have been awarded in 2013 for sports equipment and training, as well as a brief historical overview of recent patents and some of the most active assignees. 1

The United States Patent Classification system has an entire Class dedicated to "Games Using Tangible Projectile," Class 473, 2many of which are those we typically think of as college sports (both field and court).3 The following table is based on patenting data obtained from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website. The table summarizes the number of patents granted each year in Class 473 for the years 1992 through 2012. 4

A review of the patents granted over the last 20 years in Class 473 reveals that there was an up-tick in the number of patents granted for sports-related technologies during the 1990s, with a spike of nearly 500 patents granted in 1998 alone, followed by a drop to an average of around 250 patents per year from 2000 to 2012.

A large portion of the patents granted from 2008 to 2012 went to individuals (1,193 patents). During the same period most of the remainder of the granted patents went to companies such as Acushnet Company (421 patents), Bridgestone Sports Co., Ltd. (222 patents), SRI Sports Limited (197 patents), Callaway Golf Company (196 patents) and Nike, Inc. (136 patents).

The following table summarizes patent grants for the top fifteen assignees in Class 473 from 2008 through 2012.5 As evident from the table, aside from patents that went to individuals, patent filings have been dominated by golf equipment companies.

Innovations in Fall and Winter Sports

The following is a very brief survey of some of the patents that were granted in 2013 for inventions relating to football, basketball, soccer, and hockey. While a broad survey of sports innovations is beyond the scope of this article, the following overview of a small number of patents that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) has granted to individuals, companies, and universities, should be helpful as a snapshot of research and development (R&D) activities in these categories by these companies and universities. 6

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1 In the United States, patents are granted by the United States Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). Once granted, the patent holder has an enforceable monopoly that is backed by the United States federal government and judicial system, giving the holder the exclusive right to make, use, sell, offer to sell, or import into the United States any process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter covered by the patent. Patents can be a useful tool to gain insight into cutting edge technologies and methodologies, and to predict what technologies or methodologies are available, or could become available in the future.

2 This Class is defined as including any "[a]pparatus or means relating to the type of amusement, recreational, or play activities commonly known as games or sports (a) in which one or more players or participants use a ball, missile, stream of water, or any other such body which occupies physical space and can be touched and thereby felt by the one or more players or participants (i.e., a tangible body) such that, during play of a game or sport, the ball, missile, or other such tangible body is thrown, rolled, shoved, impelled, propelled, projected, or otherwise put into motion by a nonexplosive force so as to achieve an objective set forth by rules defined for the particular game or sport and (b) wherein the result of playing such a game or sport can be indicated according to rules defined for the particular game or sport."

3 In plain language, this Class includes patents and published patent applications for innovations relating to billiards, bowling, golf, croquet, hopscotch, playing field games (think baseball, hockey, lacrosse, polo, water polo, soccer, rugby, football, etc.), and court games (think basketball, volleyball, water volleyball, table tennis, tennis, etc.).

4 As of the writing of this article, Class 473 had a total of 21,359 patents and 12,809 published patent applications.

5 This table has been created based on the data published on the PTO website.

6 We caution that the identified patents may not be the current state of R&D efforts by these entities, because of the significant delay between the filing for a patent and the grant of the patent, which can be on the order of years.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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