Tradeology

The official blog of ITA

World Trade Month: Honoring the Role of Intellectual Property in Sports

Jessica Pomper is an International Trade Specialist in the Office of Intellectual Property Rights at the International Trade Administration

Regardless of whether you love or hate the New England Patriots, I’m sure you saw Tom Brady’s jersey everywhere the days leading up to and immediately following the Super Bowl. But how sure are you that it was a real jersey? Do you know what it means for the jersey to be authentic? That’s where intellectual property (IP) comes in to play. Our office covers intellectual property rights across international trade, and this month we are celebrating World Trade Month. IP plays a large role in international trade, as goods need to be protected across borders. On April 26, people across the globe celebrated World IP Day. This year’s theme was sports and IP, as the two share a close relationship. One topic that shows the close relationship between the two is counterfeit sporting goods. Our STOPfakes website is dedicated to the protection of IP across the globe, and even features a consumer guide to counterfeit and pirated goods.soccer field

Now let’s delve deeper into the role of IP, and take a closer look at the details on a Super Bowl LIII Tom Brady jersey

At the top, we have the collar. One of the hardest things to fake — and fake well —  is the NFL shield. The new National Football League (NFL) Nike jerseys have a rubberized NFL shield sewn into the center of the collar. If the NFL shield is embroidered or ironed on, you have a fake. On either shoulder is Brady’s number (12), screen printed below the border of the collar. If the number is embroidered or if it does not match the team’s font and colors, you have a fake. And these aren’t the only signifiers; there are dozens of details on sports jerseys that help distinguish between fakes and the real deal.

What exactly makes one jersey authentic and the other infringing? Each of the involved parties owns the IP displayed on the jersey. The NFL logo is a trademark owned by the NFL and is licensed to companies for use in products. The NFL is the licensor and Nike is the licensee, meaning Nike is officially and legally allowed to use the official NFL logo for this jersey. The NFL also owns trademarks for the word “Super Bowl,” and any logos used for the Super Bowl; the NFL licensed this logo for use by licensee Nike.

The New England Patriots own trademarks to their name, logo, slogan, and other elements that identify the Patriots brand. The New England Patriots are also the licensor in this case, licensing use of its name and logo to Nike for the jersey’s creation. As the creator of the product, Nike is free to use its own trademarked swoosh logo throughout the jersey’s design.

Now that we understand that IP is at play, why does it matter? The sports industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Leading equipment and apparel providers have a great deal invested in their designs, endorsements, and reputation for quality. To recover value from these investments, brands need to protect their IP. While apparel — such as jerseys — are in-demand products that call for IP protection, there are also other parts of the industry that need protection. For example, broadcast networks can lose market share to sports piracy sites and illegal streaming platforms (i.e., websites where the website owner lacks the right or authorization to stream the content). Subscription networks such as ESPN, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports are often the victims of piracy. Despite laws and regulations in countries around the world, piracy still occurs throughout the globe. Piracy can take on many forms, such as the unlicensed distribution of recordings, unlicensed DVD production and/or distribution, unauthorized live streaming, or the unlicensed transmission of cable networks. Stopping piracy has become a global effort, with stakeholders and government agencies working to preserve and defend their rights.

The U.S. government pays close attention to how countries around the world protect American innovation and ingenuity. If you’re interested in learning more about how counterfeiting and piracy continue to affect industries and how governments get involved, you can read more on our STOPfakes website.

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