Sport and Intellectual Property

Innovation and creativity are key drivers in the world of sport. In every sporting field, inventors and creators are working behind the scenes to push the boundaries, creating new opportunities for enjoyment and for athletes to better their performance.

Sport shows intellectual property (IP) in action. Patents encourage technological advances that result in better sporting equipment. Trademarks, brands and designs contribute to the distinct identity of events, teams and their gear. Copyright-related rights generate the revenues needed for broadcasters to invest in the costly undertaking of broadcasting sports events to  fans all over the world. IP rights are the basis of licensing and merchandising agreements that earn revenues to support development of the sports industry.

(Photo: Longshotter)

A sports shoe may be protected by several IP rights:

  • Patents protect the technology used to develop the shoe
  • Designs protect the “look” of the shoe
  • Trademarks distinguish the shoe from similar products and protect the “reputation” of the shoe (and the company making it)
  • Copyright protects any artwork and audiovisual creations used to publicize the shoe
Constant innovations in technology and materials have helped athletes reach ever greater heights. (Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis)

IP and the business of sport

IP lies at the heart of the huge commercial opportunities offered by the world of sport. IP rights (especially patents, trademarks and broadcasting rights) - and the legal protection they give – help to secure the economic value of sport. This in turn stimulates growth of the sports industry, enables sporting organizations to finance high-profile sports events, and provides the means to promote sports development. Business transactions related to sponsorship, merchandising, broadcasting and media deals are all built on IP rights. The sports industry has a growing impact on the world economy, creating jobs, investing in public infrastructure and mobilizing resources. 


From the sports shoe to the swimsuit and the tennis racket to the football, sports technologists have applied their ingenuity, creativity and expertise to develop better and safer equipment in the quest for sporting excellence.


Brands are critical for creating business value, and the sports business is no exception. Strong brands command customer loyalty and premium prices, constituting valuable assets that drive company revenue and growth.


The influence of design in the world of sport is far-reaching. Where image and aesthetics are involved, so too is design, and where new materials emerge, aesthetics or design soon follow.


Copyright and related rights, particularly those relating to broadcasting organizations, underpin the relationship between sport and television and other media.

Licenses & sponsorship

By acquiring intellectual property (IP) rights and then using them strategically, sports organizations and other rights owners can protect and increase their income-generating potential.

The Olympic Games

The IP system, and trademarks in particular, play a pivotal role in safeguarding the unique character of the Olympic Games and their identifications, including the Olympic symbol, Olympic emblems, the flag, the torch and the anthem.

WIPO and sport

Sport & development

The economic importance of IP and sport, and their potential contribution to development have led to an increased focus on the issue among WIPO’s member states and throughout the wider United Nations family.

Respect for IP in sport

WIPO’s work on building respect for IP in sport is part of its strategic goal to build respect for IP around the world.

Resolving disputes

WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center provides two types of dispute resolution service relevant to sport.

Related links

WIPO Magazine articles

External resources