ASICS: creating quality lifestyle through intelligent sports technology
*An adaptation of this article entitled Intellectual Property Supporting Sports first published in Patent, the magazine of the Japan Patent Attorneys Association (JPAA), (Vol.71, No. 14, 2018).
By Koji Saito, General Manager, Intellectual Property Department, ASICS Corporation, Kobe, Japan
The well-known Japanese sports brand, ASICS, began operations in 1977, but its roots date from 1949, when a former military officer, Kihachiro Onitsuka, established Onitsuka Co. in Kobe, Japan. Mr. Onitsuka had a great passion for sports and health and, in the 1950s, he set out to provide the youth of Japan with appropriate shoes to encourage participation in sports. In the late 1970s, the company changed its name to ASICS. The name consists of the acronym of the Latin expression, Anima Sana In Corpore Sano, meaning “a sound mind in a sound body”. It is the philosophy under which the company operates, and the fundamental platform on which it still stands. ASICS’ long-standing corporate vision is to “create quality lifestyle through intelligent sport technology”.
A commitment to human-centric design
Since its inception, ASICS has developed a number of innovations and inventions. Many of these inventions have contributed to record-breaking performances at sports events across the globe. Since the 1960s, the company’s focus has been on developing high-performance running shoes, among other types of footwear. Over the years, the company has developed a variety of unique running shoe models to accommodate different conditions and ensure athletes have a comfortable running experience. Each generation of shoe reflects the strong commitment of the company’s founder, Mr. Onitsuka, to marrying technology and design with comfort and performance. An early example of this is the “Magic Runner” marathon line launched in 1960. The “Magic Runner’s” air ventilation system helped prevent long-distance marathon runners from developing blisters. ASICS has patented many of its inventions in Japan and elsewhere.
In 1985, ASICS established the ASICS Institute of Sport Science in Kobe, Japan. The Institute is the company’s research and development (R&D) center and is responsible for developing a range of technologies in line with the company’s commitment to human-centric science and cutting-edge sports innovation. Through analyses of natural movements and actions, the Institute develops unique materials and structures to meet the needs of athletes. In recent years, ASICS has expanded the scope of the Institute’s work and thereby strengthened its R&D capacity.
Today, ASICS continues to develop technologies to improve the quality and performance of sports shoes. For example, a core R&D focus is the development of the soles of sports shoes. R&D efforts also emphasize innovative solutions for fit, cushioning, stability, flexibility, grip, ventilation and durability. The company owns a sizeable portfolio of intellectual property (IP) rights both to protect its investment in these technologies and to fund future R&D activities.
Developed in 1960, the Magic Runner’s innovative ventilation system helped prevent long-distance runners from developing blisters.
ASICS FLYTEFOAM™ technology has excellent shape-recovering properties that make for a longlasting cushioning experience.
Intelligent sports technology supports athletic performance
ASICS is perhaps best known for its highly cushioned GEL™ brand technology and shoes launched in 1986. The technology and shoe range continue to progress. The latest advances in GEL™ technology are embedded in the GEL-QUANTUM INFINITY™ model, which features a full-length GEL™ technology-infused midsole offering athletes greater comfort and a visually impressive pair of sneakers.
ASICS has also developed a light and stable foam technology branded as FLYTEFOAM™, which is featured in the midsole of mainstay running shoe collections. The technology’s excellent shape recovering properties means that ASICS footwear with FLYTEFOAM™ technology bounces back to its original shape after every stride. This light-weight technology is formed using a polymer foam containing “organic fibers” that make for a long-lasting cushioning experience. The shoe’s high-quality adaptive cushioning offers runners a more comfortable, resilient and durable trainer.
ASICS’ FLYTEFOAM™ Propel and GEL™ technologies can be found in the latest version of the legendary GEL NIMBUS™ model, launched in 2018, which built on the company’s highly successful FLYTEFOAM™ technology. Once again, the shoe reflects ASICS’ commitment to continuous improvement and offers runners superior comfort. These cushioning technologies create a spring-like feel for a more energetic and lighter run.
The company’s most recent and much-heralded METARIDE™ model, launched in February 2019, features multiple proprietary technologies encompassed in a radical new design. Billed as one of ASICS’ most important technologies in 70 years, the METARIDE™ model embedded with GUIDESOLE™ technology is an advanced sports shoe designed to make long-distance running easier. Its precision engineering minimizes movement in the ankle joint where most energy is expended, making for improved running efficiency. The shoe’s precision-shaped curved sole shifts body weight forward to give runners the feeling of effortless motion.
ASICS has always been alongside runners working to develop the technologies required for more comfortable and efficient sports footwear. Further evidence of this is the ASICS Running Lab, a running store that specializes in technically advanced running apparel, equipment and footwear. The ASICS Running Lab helps athletes match the right shoe to their foot type and gait, helping them to maximize their running performance and reduce the risk of injury.
As a successful global brand, ASICS’ product range and attendant IP are widely associated with high quality and high performance. Indeed, the company has received a number of national awards, such as the Good Design Award in Japan (see Figure 5), for its achievements in the areas of innovation and design.
Tackling IP infringement
Like other sporting goods brands, ASICS has built an extensive IP portfolio around the products it delivers to athletes. It includes patents, design rights, and trademarks, which are used according to strict corporate guidelines. ASICS recognizes the value of its IP and is vigilant in protecting and enforcing its portfolio of rights against infringement. However, in a world where fake sports products represent a significant portion of the illicit trade in counterfeit goods, this is a challenge.
ASICS is committed to taking the necessary action to identify and remove counterfeit products from authentic markets. The challenge is so great that anti-counterfeiting efforts have become an integral part of the branding activities of many sporting goods manufacturers. Companies across the sector and government authorities around the globe have undertaken vast anti-counterfeiting initiatives to protect consumers and the public from low quality and potentially harmful imposter goods. After all, for consumers, brands and the IP rights that underpin their reputation represent a guarantee of genuine quality. Counterfeiters, however, are becoming ever more savvy in the way they infringe the rights of IP owners and free-ride on their hard-won commercial reputation. That is why more effective and efficient measures are required to combat the growing sophistication of counterfeiters.
In these circumstances, ASICS has identified three counterfeiting categories that reflect the evolution of the illegal trade in counterfeit goods and has devised a strategic response to each of these categories in accordance with their impact on its business. The first category includes unknown poor-quality products bearing ASICS trademarks without authorization. The second category includes copycat goods – products and trademarks that strongly resemble authentic goods, which are made from low-quality materials and are poorly finished. For brand owners, enforcing their IP rights against such “free-riding” activities in typical counterfeit marketplaces can be an unfortunate common occurrence. However, the third category represents a more insidious challenge for sports rights owners. In this category, we see the effective hijacking of genuine products. The offending products are conceptually similar to the genuine product and bear a slightly modified trademark. A growing number of “bad faith” trademarks for these products are being registered in a variety of jurisdictions. ASICS refers to this type of counterfeit activity as brand hijacking. The activity is increasingly common, and the number of consumers duped by these goods continues to rise.
By actively enforcing their rights against counterfeiters, companies are effectively preserving the integrity of their brand values. That is why ASICS has adopted additional and more unconventional strategies to tackle brand hijackers, beyond trademark oppositions and lawsuits. These include:
- working with local agents and attorneys to improve their understanding of these issues;
- Lobbying enforcement authorities to raise awareness about good trademark practice among the business community to discourage unauthorized use of trademarks;
- promoting the company’s trademarks through, for example, cover page advertisements and IP publications;
- engaging with authorities to improve the quality of trademark examination to minimize registrations of bad-faith filings; and
- working with national authorities to pursue massive enforcement actions. Some have already issued record penalties and fines. This is already helping to reduce the level of counterfeit goods in the market.
Many brand owners across the globe face similar challenges and, like ASICS, are keen for governments to establish and maintain robust trademark laws across jurisdictions to help ensure that brand hijackers are unable to exploit loopholes in national trademark systems.
The marketing power of sponsorship
Global sporting goods manufacturers such as ASICS play an active role in sports events around the world, either as official suppliers of sportswear (shoes, apparel, accessories and equipment) or as event sponsors. The sporting goods industry develops and delivers quality products to support athletic performance within the parameters of the evolving rules and regulations of competitive sports.
The almost universal appeal of sports and the far-reaching benefits that flow from physical activity – in terms of health, well-being and building a sense of community – make sports events very powerful marketing platforms. As an official sponsor of a sports event that is broadcast live, a sports brand has an opportunity to promote its products and associated cutting-edge technologies and designs to sports fans around the world.
Broadcast coverage of sports events transforms them into very powerful marketing platforms that have the potential to reach billions of consumers via television or online streaming platforms. Accordingly, sponsors pay much more attention to the way in which their brands (underpinned by trademark rights) are used. They also take steps to ensure an effective IP strategy is in place when developing and launching any new products during such events.
ASICS is honored to be an official sponsor in the “Sporting Goods” category of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. As such, the company will make every effort to ensure the proper use and protection of its IP – and that of other sponsors – to prevent ambush marketing, in particular. The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be an ideal opportunity for the company to market the ASICS brand to a global audience, and to underline the company’s commitment to contributing to healthy and sustainable societies by creating quality lifestyles through intelligent sports technology. In this way, we will contribute to the success of the world’s most iconic celebration of sports.
The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.