IP Scores High In Sports – Supports Amateurs, Olympics, Development, Speakers Say

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Alongside last week’s meeting of the World Trade Organization intellectual property committee, the United States, European Union and Jamaica organised an event on the relevance of intellectual property in sports. Speakers from professional organisations such as the International Olympic Committee, the Association of European Professional Football Leagues, and the Nike company were invited to share their experience in the matter.

The event titled “Intellectual Property and Sports: Score with IP!” was held on 11 October, in the margins of the Council on Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which met on 10-11 October (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 14 October 2013).

IP and Sport for Development

Peter Dirk Siemsen, an industrial property lawyer, and partner at Dannemann Siemsen in Brazil, said the development agenda provides least developed countries (LDCs) and developing countries with educational programmes, transfer of technology and technical assistance. But, he said, those countries need extensive preparation in the field of energy, transportation, telecommunication, and other infrastructures before IP rights can be used successfully to achieve economic development.

Sport, because its practice is extensive in both LDCs and developing countries, is a “first choice” in IP-related activities that can serve development, he said. IP plays an important role in the world of sport, with a whole range of IP rights, such as trademarks, slogans, designs, copyrights, image protection, and even patents.

Football is the number one sport in popularity around the world, he said, followed by American football, baseball, rugby, cricket, and ice hockey.

“Developed countries have learned how to benefit from the enormous attractive power that sport events have on the public,” he stated. There are opportunities for countries with emerging economies to get an economic boost from sport, he said, citing the upcoming Brazil 2014 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Soccer Cup.

However, to be successful, developing countries still have “a lot to learn and to do,” he said. “Even in countries like Brazil, which is famous for its football, the sports area is not adequately managed, or it would not lose its famous players to clubs abroad,” he added.

“Much can be done as long as developing countries and LDCs can count on transfer of know-how and technical assistance,” he said.

FIFA is a good example of how profitable major sport events can be, he said. In its 2010 annual financial report [pdf], FIFA said the World Cup in South Africa yielded US$ 3.6 billion for FIFA, excluding ticketing revenues, he said. Revenues included TV rights, marketing rights, hospitality rights, and licensing rights.

Brazil “is already feeling in the change in the air,” he said, as infrastructure improvements have to be made to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Brazil will have to start investing heavily, he said, with some preliminary evaluations at about US$ 18 billion. Investments will have to be made in transportation, urban mobility, hotels and tourism. For the FIFA World Cup alone, 12 host cities will have to be equipped in infrastructure, he said.

Some have argued that the picture is not so clear-cut. Recent demonstrations in Brazil against the FIFA World Cup have sought to draw attention to social costs involved in the preparation for the World Cup. This has been reported by numerous news outlets, such as in the Christian Science Monitor, der Spiegel, and the Wall Street Journal.

IPRs Not Fit for Football, Needs Sui Generis Right, Speaker Says

Ezéchiel Abatan, research and public policy manager at the Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL), said the EPFL is the umbrella body for the main football leagues at the European level. EFPL seeks the recognition by governments of the value of sport and of appropriate and effective protection of its members’ right under IP law, he said.

Income generated by sport rights helps sport organisers contribute to the long-term development of their sport and to the economy as a whole, he said. As examples, he said the French football league contributes a yearly 2.5 percent of its revenue generated from broadcasting and the proceedings of sport betting to amateur football. In Germany, the Deutsche Fußball Liga must pay 3 percent of its revenue generated from broadcasting rights and from ticketing, and a yearly contribution of one million euros to the German federation as a contribution to amateur football.

However, he said, sport, unlike the performing arts, is not considered by IP law as an intellectual creation. “The considerable work, energy and financial efforts” put into the organisation of events is generally recognised but few legal tools are created with the express intention of protecting the investment in the creation of the event, he said.

In the audiovisual sphere, the live dimension is the main value of sport events. Once the event is over the content loses its value, he said. The main problem is thus illegal streaming, he said, adding, “That leaves only a small window to tackle possible infringers.”

EPFL has different tools to fight piracy, ranging from obtaining blocking injunctions against websites, finding ways of cutting advertisement revenues, and working with hosting services to remove infringing content. He mentioned a partnership with Daily Motion.

However, there are no actual copyrights in a sport event, he said. While a league logo or club anthem can be copyright protected, a football game is not a work and as such cannot be considered as a work enjoying copyright protection under IP law.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, France has adopted a sui generis right called “competition organiser right,” he said. Similar measures have been taken by Hungary, Australia and New Zealand, he said.

While IP law partly fulfils its mission and represents the best currently available solution, EPFL members would like international organisations, such as the World Intellectual Organization Property and the World Trade Organization to create a regime for broadcasting and sport betting that “allows sport to reinvest it its own development, to protect its integrity, and establish a fair return for competition organisers.”

Olympic Committee Needs IP to Generate Revenue

Howard Stupp, director of legal affairs at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also underlined the importance of IP protection.

“We need money to plan, finance, organise and stage the Olympic Games” and to promote other projects, such as educational projects. “Most of our money comes from rights-holding broadcasters who pay large amounts of money to have the right to broadcast the Olympic Games on an exclusive basis in their respective territory,” he said.

“We must protect the rights of the rights-holding broadcasters and sponsors, otherwise they will not pay large amounts of money” and “we would not have enough money to organise the Olympic Games,” he said.

Marianne Chappuis, trademark legal counsel for the IOC, uses the Nairobi Treaty on the Protection of the Olympic Symbol, managed by WIPO, the Olympic legislation and trademark protection to protect the IOC intellectual property.

Ambush marketing, in which there is not a direct use of Olympic property but a use of different elements which, taken together, refer to the Olympic Games, is a real problem of the IOC, she said.


Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. […] The draft agenda of the session includes a new item proposed by the United States on innovation and IP, in which the US is proposing to discuss university technology partnerships. For a number of sessions, the TRIPS Council has hosted discussions on innovation and IP. Last autumn, the European Union, Jamaica, Mexico and the US requested an agenda item on IP and sports (IPW, WTO/TRIPS, 16 October 2013). […]

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