Intellectual property in cricket

Cricket is estimated to be the second-most watched sport in the world, and the most popular in India. Following the final of the Cricket World Cup held in Ahmedabad, we explore the diverse intellectual property assets in the world of cricket, and how they are safeguarded to ensure that players and administrative bodies can profit from their IP rights.

The commercial success of the Cricket World Cup in India, which culminated in a win for Australia yesterday, highlighted the crucial role that organisations such as the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and the ICC (International Cricket Council) play in managing and profiting from cricket-related IP assets.

With the ICC expected to bring in US$120-150 million from World Cup sponsorship alone and with the BCCI looking to bring in over US$3 billion from media rights for 2024-2027, the protection of intellectual property related to cricket through patents, trademarks and copyright is vital to safeguarding the commercial revenues of cricket’s administrators.

Protecting innovations in cricket

Patents are used to incentivise manufacturers to continue to explore innovation in cricket equipment. This incentive comes in the form of exclusive rights over the sale, use and manufacture of a particular product, for a set period of time.

Patents also ensure that the equipment meets certain safety and performance standards. Thus, issuance of patents also safeguards the interest of players by ensuring the equipment used is not of substandard quality.

A great example of patent application is the “Smart Cricket Bat”. This cricket bat uses technology to track a player’s performance and generate feedback using accelerometer, gyroscope, pressure sensors etc.

Below are some other interesting patents:

Composed Cricket Match (Patent No. 2822/MUM/2011):

Imagine a digital video production of a fictitious cricket match, created by composing clips from previously played matches. This invention, known as the Composed Cricket Match, adds a unique twist to cricket entertainment. It’s not about rigging games; rather, it’s a creative blend of real footage to craft a new narrative.

Cricket Pitch Innovation (Patent No. 1009/DEL/2003):

Bowlers often deliver fast, short-pitched deliveries known as bouncers. These can be dangerous and cause physical injury to players. To address this, an inventor has devised a special kind of cricket pitch that minimises the effectiveness of bouncers, ensuring a safer game.

Apparatus for Aiding Cricket (Patent No. 502/MUM/2004):

While there are many aids for cricketers during games, this patent takes a different approach. It aims to help bowlers improve their line and length without causing any disturbance. The portable apparatus can be used during practice and training sessions.

In India alone, there are over 50 patent applications related to cricket techniques, accessories, and even virtual games.

Trademarks in cricket

A trademark is essentially a sign, phrase or symbol associated with a specific product that legally differentiates that product from others. In cricket, trademark takes the form of team logos, team names, jerseys, logos of distinct tournaments such as IPL etc. It ensures the protection of the distinct identity of cricket. Trademarks are thus a representation of the brands in cricket.

A great example in Indian cricket is the Indian Premier League. The tournament’s logo, alongside the logos of the teams, constitute trademarks. The teams and tournament generate profits by licensing/selling exclusive rights to use these logos to various companies for the purpose of advertising, marketing, merchandising etc.

Copyright in cricket

In the realm of cricket, copyright protection plays a crucial role in safeguarding broadcasters, photographers, and writers. It ensures that their creative work remains shielded from unauthorized use or infringement by external parties.

To illustrate this concept, consider the highlights of matches played during the Cricket World Cup. Imagine a specific company, such as ‘Disney+Hotstar’, holding exclusive broadcasting rights for these highlights. As the rights holder, this company has the authority to grant permission to other broadcasters to showcase these highlights. Any modifications or adaptations would also require consent from the original rights holder. This principle extends to writers and photographers who capture cricket-related content.

In essence, copyright serves as a vital shield, preserving the rights of creators and curators in the dynamic world of cricket broadcasting and content creation.

Geographical indications in cricket:

A geographical indication is a sign used to indicate that a product has a special origin and possesses certain qualities or reputation due to that origin. In cricket geographical indication tags can be used to indicate that a product, method, or skill has specific origin, by virtue of which the product possesses certain distinct qualities.

An example of a geographical indication in cricket is the English Willow Bat, which refers to cricket bat made out of a specific species of willow tree called Salix alba var, grown specifically in England. An example closer to home is the Kashmir Willow bat, which is in the process of obtaining a geographical indication. The Kashmir willow bats are made from Salix alba trees found in Kashmir and are popular in amateur competitions.

IPR and the Cricket World Cup: An Indian perspective

The ICC has plethora of IP rights (IPR) assets, which include the ICC names and ICC trademarks; the official logo of the Cricket World Cup; the official ICC logo; the words and phrases “ICC”, “International Cricket Council”, “ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup”; the official website of the event and audio-visual footage of match play action and still images from the event.

The ICC sells or licenses these IPRs to generate profits from the World Cup. The ICC garnered around US$3 billion by giving Disney Star the streaming rights for the ICC world Cup up to 2027.

In turn Disney Star has entered into a landmark licensing agreement with Zee, enabling Zee to broadcast all ICC Men’s and Under 19 events. Further, the ICC has also entered into an exclusive licensing and merchandising partnership with FanCode shop. Thus, FanCode will build, manage and run the ICC online store to curate official merchandise and accessories for the ICC men’s Cricket World Cup in India.

The ICC has also entered a strategic partnership with BharatPe, which includes promoting the association between the two brands across broadcasts and other digital platforms. The fear of misuse of its IPRs has prompted ICC to release strict advisories and guidelines for brands, sponsors, and partners to counter unauthorized use of its IPR and clamp down on unauthorized associations. Thus, these instances show how IPR generate business for the ICC, participating teams, and players, while demonstrating the important the role that IPR play in the realm of cricket-business.

Photo: 34473560 | Cricket India © R S Vivek |