With Teqball the world is curved
By Catherine Jewell, Publications Division, WIPO
Teqball, a new, ingeniously simple and fun ball game, is taking the world of football by storm. Football stars, top football clubs and national teams have all caught the teqball bug. Teqball’s Gergely Muranyi, talks about the challenges associated with developing this new sport, the role played by intellectual property (IP) in furthering the company’s ambitions to promote the sport globally and, ultimately, for it to become an Olympic sport.
What was the inspiration for Teqball?
Teqball, the company, was founded by Gábor Borsányi, Gyuri Gattyán and Viktor Huszár. Gábor, the creative force in the team, came up with the idea when he was a young professional soccer player. When he couldn’t get access to a football pitch, he would practice with a friend passing a football across one of the many concrete ping-pong tables found outside residential buildings in Budapest. In later life, he realized that by simply adding a curve to the top of a table, you can create a far more enjoyable game, which we call teqball.
So what exactly is Teqball?
Teqball is the company responsible for developing an innovative sports product that is used for an emerging football-based sport, which professionals and amateurs, including people with disabilities, can play. The game combines the fast pace of table tennis with the skill and excitement of football. One of the great advantages of teqball is that you don’t need a team of people to play, you only need a friend. We called it teqball because you need technique to play the game and you play it with a regular soccer ball.
The company was established in 2014 and is based in Budapest, Hungary, where our R&D center is located. We employ around 130 people, up from 38 last year, many of whom are under 30. The company’s overriding aim is to create value through the power of sports. That’s what drives us.
So is teqball exclusively for soccer?
When we started developing teqball, we were very soccer focused, but in fact, you can play five different games on a Teqball table, namely, teqball, teqis, teqpong, qatch, and teqvoly. For the moment, teqball is the most developed. For example, the different teqball cups we organize are football-focused. In future, we plan to develop the other games into individual sports disciplines and to organize Teq Games where athletes can compete in all Teq sports. That would be a huge event.
Tell us more about the apparatus
The Teqball table is about the size of a table tennis table but has a curved surface and a solid net so the ball bounces back if it hasn’t been struck correctly. That means players can only rely on their skill and ability. There’s no luck involved in the game. All you need is an opponent at the other end of the table for the game to begin. It is a great way for football enthusiasts to develop their technical skills, concentration and stamina.
Teqball is the only training method in the world that gives players such a high level of contact with the ball. That’s why footballers are taking it up. Already, quite a number of international soccer players are playing teqball in their free time – and without any incentives from our side – to improve their ball handling skills, or just for fun. It’s also really good for warming up and cooling down. We have created a series of training exercises to ensure players get the most from their teqball experience and can develop their football skills in the stadium using our apparatus.
Our IP is our most valuable asset and protecting it gives us the freedom to build new business relationships without fear of compromising our IP assets.
And your product range?
We have the Teqball ONE, a very solid and durable table that is fixed to the ground. City councils use it in public parks and we use it for professional teqball competitions. We also have a compact, mobile version called the Teqball SMART, which is ideal for schools. And later this year, we are launching a more affordable version, which will retail for around EUR 700; it’s a lot easier to make and will allow us to significantly boost our production capacity.
Was it challenging to create a curved tabletop?
To develop a table with a flat surface is straightforward, but creating a curved tabletop that is perfectly smooth, lightweight, quiet, easy to assemble and ship, presented a number of tough technical challenges.
Finding the right materials and the best way to put everything together took a lot of research, experimentation, patience and determination. In the end, we came up with two award-winning products. We won a Red Dot Design award for Teqball ONE and an iF design award for the Teqball SMART.
The tables are UV protected and can be used indoors and outside. The tabletop is made from high-pressure laminated (HPL) sheets and its support structure is made of steel that can withstand corrosion from the sea or the snow. In line with our commitment to quality, the tables are made from high-quality materials.
Our biggest business challenge was finding an investor to back the idea. After an 18- month search, we secured the financial backing of the Hungarian venture capitalist, Gyuri Gattyán.
When we came up with the idea of teqball, it was clear we needed to protect it. Because of its simplicity, anyone could copy the idea, so we understood the importance of IP from the outset.
Which markets are you targeting?
Europe is our main focus; that is where the culture of football is most developed. Interestingly, football (soccer) is also taking off in the USA, where increasingly it’s seen as a cheaper and safer alternative to American football. But we also have activities in Africa, Asia and Latin America; Brazilians, in particular, are interested in playing football and teqball.
How did you get people interested in teqball?
At first, it was difficult to persuade people to try the game, but once they did, they were hooked. We shared it with all our contacts in the football world. We knew we needed to reach a point where people saw their favorite soccer stars playing teqball and using our equipment. Now, many top soccer players, soccer clubs – including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Chelsea – and national teams are playing teqball. They began playing spontaneously, without any sales promotion from our side, because they really enjoyed playing the game. This has really helped promote the popularity of teqball as a sport.
Earlier this year the Olympic Committee of Asia formally recognized teqball as a sport. This is a huge step forward for us as it means that teqball is now an official sport in 45 Asian countries. It also opens the way for teqball to be included in the next Asian Games, the world’s second largest sports event.
How did you go about establishing teqball as a professional sport?
Once we decided to promote it as a professional sport, we realized the need to establish a federation to oversee the governance of teqball and, in 2017, FITEQ, the International Teqball Federation, was established. It is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. We began that process shortly before the first Teqball World Cup in 2017 in Hungary. An indication of the rapid growth in the popularity of the sport is that 20 countries took part in the 2017 Teqball World Cup in Hungary and by the 2018 Teqball World Cup in Reims, France, 42 countries participated.
At what point did you realize the importance of IP?
When we came up with the idea of teqball, it was clear we needed to protect it. Because of its simplicity, anyone could copy the idea. So we understood the importance of IP from the outset. We made sure all potential partners signed our well-structured non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and took steps to protect the design of our tables and other technical elements. So far, we have sought protection in around 50 different countries and have taken advantage of the various cost-effective filing and registration systems offered by WIPO, including the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs, to do so.
Our IP is our most valuable asset and protecting it gives us the freedom to build new business relationships without fear of compromising our IP assets. IP rights are central to our future business plans in terms of creating a global network for the manufacture and distribution of our tables to ensure that sports enthusiasts who want to play teqball have affordable access to our products. In South America, for example, high import duties make our products prohibitively expensive. With a local partner in place to manufacture and distribute Teqball tables, we can make them more widely available and affordable. We are already working with a partner in China for that purpose. And in Europe, our web shop will be our main sales outlet as this will enable us to offer customers more flexible payment options (for example an initial down payment followed by monthly installments). We see this as an important way to make the sport available and accessible to everybody. The real value for us is not the number of tables we sell, but the number of players we draw to the game. We are selling sport and we are also bringing the joy of doing sport. IP rights also have an important role in enabling us to promote the sport and its long-term development.
What about the importance of sponsorship?
In the medium term, we envisage developing brands for different teqball competitions, such as the Teqball World Championships and the Teqball World Series. Each of these competitions will need to be supported by an effective IP strategy to attract sponsors, the media, top players and of course viewers. At the first Teqball Beach Games at Lupa Beach near Budapest, in 2018, we already signed sponsorship deals with major companies like BMW and Hublot. Given the enthusiasm surrounding the Teqball brand, our aim for the next Teqball World Championships in 2019 and in 2020, is to take Teqball sponsorship to a new level by expanding our sponsorship program to include many more top-tier sponsors.
Are teqball competitions broadcast?
Yes, broadcasting is an important part of fueling interest in the sport. In the future, the sale of broadcasting rights for these events will be the company’s biggest revenue generator. We broadcast the 2018 Teqball World Cup for the first time on YouTube and Facebook. The Teqball Beach Games in Cape Verde in June 2019 were broadcast on TV in Europe and Africa. Things are really taking off in this area.
What are your plans for the future?
Our sights are set on attracting as many people as possible to teqball. To this end, we are developing a range of training materials for schools to help create a new generation of teqball players. Our multisport team is also working to organize sports events around teqis, teqpong, qatch and teqvoly. Here again, IP will play an important role. But our ultimate goal is for teqball to become an Olympic sport.
While the business is now taking off, we have never viewed teqball simply as a profit-making business proposition. Our aim is to create value through the power of sport. That’s why in 2018 we launched a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns around the world. For example, we donated two Teqball tables to the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan, where we also rolled out a training program. The camp now has two professional teqball trainers who regularly train the kids in the camp. This is our way of giving them hope and a taste of the joy that comes from playing sport.
What message do you have for young inventors?
Believe in yourself, always stay humble and never take “no” for an answer.
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