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The Intellectual Property of the World Cup

Intellectual Property of the World Cup

For fans of the beautiful game (aka football or soccer is it known in the USA and Canada), the quadrennial Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup is binge-watching fantasy. Attracting an audience measured in the billions, it’s an enormously popular and expensive commercial enterprise that showcases innovation in all facets of its operation. From stadium construction and pre-tournament fitness training, to communication with referees and broadcasting technology, the FIFA World Cup™ integrates invention and new technology in thousands of ways. In this post, we highlight some of the more notable intellectual property of the World Cup.



The world of football is a world of protection through patenting. That innovation is found everywhere in football is clear from the extensive research of three French IP attorneys who released an extensive analysis in 2016 when France hosted the European Championships. Their research revealed that 1778 first patent filings related to football had been published from 2000 to 2014. Nike had by far the largest number of soccer-related patent families-well over 800-followed by Adidas, Mizuno, Namco, Sega, Sony, Sharp, and Wilson Sporting Goods. The most common invention categories were equipment, audio visual, computer techniques and control and measurement techniques.

Wearable Technology (Catapult Monitoring System)

Wearable technology has been widely adopted at the highest levels in many sports, including soccer. Its official welcome was the March 2015 decision of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) to formally allow wearable technology in the sport. So far, wearable technology adoption has primarily been focussed on training and physical fitness optimization using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMs) devices tucked into vests worn by players during practice.

Australian company Catapult Sports is one of the biggest and busiest providers of wearable technology, working with over 1500 teams across 35 sports worldwide. Among these are the national football associations of ten countries participating in Russia this year, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Sweden.

Catapult’s main product is the OptimEye S5, a MEMs that uses both GPS and GLONASS satellites to gather data. The system combines positioning technology with accelerometers, gyroscopes and force readers to track players' movements, change of direction, acceleration and speed. Analysis software enables the coaching staff to monitor the 'load' and movement intensity to hone the physical side of soccer while preventing overtraining.  

Extra Reading & Watching:

FIFA Video: The Future of Football: Wearable Technology

Video Assistant Referee

Of all the coverage on technical innovations leading up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system probably generated the most discussion. In the football world, it’s relatively new, having been approved in March 2018 by the The International Football Association Board (IFAB). In rugby, however, the TMO (Television Match Official) system has been in use for years. VAR and TMO are very similar in concept; provide the referee with an off-field resource who can see multiple camera angles of a play and pass on information to the referee.

In fact, Hawk-Eye Innovations is the leading provider of TMO systems for rugby and won the tender to provide the VAR system in Russia. Hawk-Eye’s VAR system combines the latest in broadcast and audio technology. More than 30 cameras, regular broadcast cameras, including super slow-motion and ultra slow-motion units, capture footage, which is sent via a fiber optic connection to the VAR operations center in Moscow where four officials monitor the play. One assistant follows the match live, another focuses on offsides, while the third assists. The lead VAR official communicates with the match referee. So far, the VAR system appears to be working.

Extra Reading & Watching:

FIFA Video: VAR - The System Explained

FIFA: VAR at the World Cup

Goal Line Technology

While refereeing controversies and post-match “we were robbed” debates among fans are part of every World Cup, FIFA has made some key changes to avoid events such as Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal during England’s 2-1 defeat to Germany in the 2010 World Cup. Goal line technology (GLT) is one of them. First introduced at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to support referees, GLT has since been adopted by every major league across the globe.

The premise of GLT is simple; automate the process of analyzing whether the ball has crossed the goal line, and quickly communicate a Yes/No confirmation to the referee. After several decades in development, three ball-tracking categories have been iterated to the point of commercialization; wireless-radio-based technologies, camera-based technologies, and magnetic-field-based technologies.

The GLT system used in Brazil and installed in the 2018 World Cup venues is the camera-based system developed by Goal Control of Germany. Officially approved by FIFA in 2013, it uses seven high-speed cameras (recording up to 500 frames per second) focussed on each goal. It tracks the ball, renders it in 3D, separates out the players and determines whether the ball has crossed the line. (Goal Control claims an image processing accuracy of  5 millimeters). Within a second, a decision is transmitted to the on-field referee’s smartwatch.

GLT is a competitive category with several patented alternatives lead by the Hawk-Eye system (patent no. WO200141884) used in Ligue 1, Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga venues. The Goalminder system (patent no. WO2012038746) uses fibre optic cameras built into the crossbar and goal posts. The Cairos GLT system (patent no. WO2008119479) involves embedding thin cables beneath the penalty area and behind the goal line to create a magnetic field, and requires a special sensor-equipped ball. The GoalRef system (patent no. WO2009046722) also uses magnetic fields to create the radio equivalent of a light curtain at the goal, albeit without requiring a special ball. Yet another system is Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s GLT invention (patent no. EP1855766) using conductors and wave transmission.

Extra Reading & Watching:

Deadspin: Was That A Goal? The World Cup Tech That Calls The Close Ones

YouTubeExplaining GoalControl-4D

FIFA: The Hidden Technologies at the FIFA World Cup

Referee Smartwatch

Hublot Smartwatch

Should the GLT system confirm a goal, referees will receive the news on a very stylish device.

Every GLT system needs a way to communicate the goal/no goal decision to the referee. For an organization with few rivals when it comes to maximizing commercial partnerships and sponsorship, it’s not surprising that FIFA turned again to its “official timekeeper of the FIFA World Cup” partner Hublot to “close the loop” on its GLT initiative.

A Swiss luxury watch brand, Hublot has had many high-profile football sponsorships over the years with tournaments and individual clubs, including Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain. Hublot, which had long dismissed and scorned the smartwatch category, created its first smartwatch based on its iconic "Big Bang" chronograph.

Formally known as the Hublot Big Bang Referee 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, its design is based on Hublot’s design patent for its Big Bang series. The actual watch has a 35.4mm face and runs Wear OS on an Intel Atom Z34XX processor. In addition to the watches made for the 101 referees (36 referees and 63 assistants) officiating the tournament, Hublot made a limited run of 2,018 pieces available for approximately $5,200.

Extra Reading & Watching:

Dezeen: Hublot's First Smartwatch to be Used by Referees at World Cup 2018


Vanishing Foam

For sheer usefulness, you can’t beat the vanishing foam (aka free kick spray) that referees use to designate the distance, which defenders must stand away from free kick takers. We can thank chemistry and the curiosity of a Brazilian inventor Heine Allemagne for introducing objectivity into a sport inherently ruled by subjectivity,

Beginning in 2000, Allemagne worked with a local cosmetics company to perfect the composition. By combining water (80%), butane gas (17%), vegetable oil (2% and surfactant (1%), he created a white spray that “evaporates” after about a minute. The chemistry is fascinating; the liquefied butane expands when sprayed, instantly evaporating to form gas bubbles in the water/surfactant mixture. The mixture provides the bubble with temporary stability, creating the foam. As the bubbles collapse, the foam disappears, leaving only water and surfactant on the field while play continues.

Named after espuma, the Portuguese word for foam, the Spuni brand was introduced in 2001. An international patent application was filed in March 2000 and the patent granted in October 2002. Spuni was used in the 2001 Brazilian Championship, the Copa João Havelange. Commercial production began in 2008. The inflection point was the FIFA 2014 World Cup when Allemagne gave the organizers 320 cans ($3,200 at retail) to use. The resulting news and social media coverage was huge.

Since then, Spuni has become part of professional soccer around the globe. It’s an elegantly simple invention, providing referees and fans with a temporary yet permanent solution to the annoying problem of defender encroachment. (Watch any 20th-century World Cup game and you’ll see)

Extra Reading & Watching:

BBC World Service: The Story Behind Football’s Magic Foam

Daily Mail: World Cup Vanishing Spray Inventor Heine Allemagne Set to Become a Millionaire

Sports illustrated: Inventor of Vanishing Spray Set to Sue FIFA for €100m Over Unlicensed Use of Product


Official Match Ball

Telstar 18 Match Ball

Soccer balls have come a long way from stitched pig bladders.

One of the curiosities about the World Cup is that the most important part of it—the ball—changes every tournament. In no other major sport is the thing that players catch, hit, carry or throw subject to so much influence by a sponsor. The R&D department of Adidas determines the aerodynamics and physical properties of the balls used in every match. As a result, every World Cup is a quadrennial exercise in wondering what Adidas has come up with before the latest design is released as part of the pre-tournament hype. This year’s Telstar ball includes a near-field communications (NFC) chip to create a mobile fan experience. When placed near an Android or iOS device (if a third-party app has been installed), it provides fans with information and updates. 

Adidas’ FIFA sponsorship and its quest for the perfect soccer ball began in 1970 with the release of the Telstar 18, a spherical friendship of 32 alternating black-and-white panels. For anyone over 40, it’s what a soccer ball looks like. Since then—2010’s Jabulani ball notwithstanding—each new ball has been an improvement on the previous model, rounder, more water resistant and more consistent in all elevations and temperatures than before.

The Azteca in 1986 was the first fully synthetic, polyurethane-coated match ball. In 2002, the Fevernova replaced stitching with thermal bonding for a truer bounce. Four years later, the reduction of the number of panels on the Teamgeist to 14 created a smoother kicking surface. While the Jabulani ball in 2010 was heavily criticized due to aerodynamic inconsistency, 2014’s Brazuca had a unique 6-panel design (and patented manufacturing process) that was well received by players and most goalies. The Telstar 18 updated the Brazuca’s propeller-like panels by sharpening edges and lengthening the grooves to improve flight stability.

Unsurprisingly, Adidas’s iterations have been accompanied by a steady flow of patent applications and grants. What will be kicked and caught in 2022 in Qatar? Adidas’ quest for the perfect soccer ball continues. Tracking Adidas patenting activities will provide clues.

Adidas World Cup Soccer Balls

Extra Reading & Watching:

Digital Trends: NFC Tech in Official World Cup Match Ball Draws Fans Even More into the Games

Popular Science: How the New World Cup Ball Was Designed to Not Influence the Games

The Atlantic: Ball, Disrupted: A Brief History of World Cup Innovation

Journal of Sports Engineering and TechnologyAerodynamic and Surface Comparisons Between Telstar 18 and Brazuca

Soccer Shoes

Innovations in soccer shoes are as much about fashion, marketing and retail sales as they are about making it easier for the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to perform. As soccer becomes ever more about fashion and branding, the major shoe manufacturers like Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance continue to release new models. And when necessary, they patent their innovations in classifications ranging from soles, studs and closures, to material layers, connectivity and ball control.

Extra Reading & Watching:

DesignBoom: A History of Adidas: Classic Football Boots


World Cup Highlights

After winning the rights to broadcast the World Cup in 2018 (and 2022), Fox Sports put a lot of thought into creating a media experience for fans. Some of that reflection included partnering with a company that has had more than 110,000 US patents granted since 1993. Yes, IBM.

Fox worked with IBM’s Watson Media and Content to build the “Ultimate World Cup Highlight Machine.” Created by IBM iX, one of the world’s biggest digital agencies, the interactive experience undoubtedly leverages Watson’s vast artificial intelligence technology, including IBM’s patent portfolio. Which Is Huge. How huge? Of the the 9,043 U.S. patents granted to IBM in 2017, more than 1,400 were for AI inventions.

So what is The Ultimate World Cup Highlight Machine? It’s an on-demand video hub that lets viewers browse FIFA’s vast World Cup archive of match footage dating back to 1958, Using filters like World Cup year, team, player, game, play type or any combination of these, you can create and share custom highlight clips.

It’s a really slick and efficient process. If your best friend is an England fan (or IPfolio’s Chief Revenue Officer Damian Durrant, who hails from Cornwall) you could torment them by creating a clip of every penalty shootout that resulted in England’s exit from the tournament. Plus, you could also include England’s 2018 PK success against Colombia in the Round of 16 to save your friendship:).

Extra Reading & Watching:

FoxSports: FIFA Highlight Machine

IBM VideoIBM and FOX Sports Team Up to Enhance Sports Viewing Experience with AI Technology

IBMHow Watson Video Enrichment Unlocks the Value in Unstructured Video Data

Brand Protection

In addition to inventions, new technology and the latest multi-colored shoes and goalie gloves, the World Cup is also one of the most impressive branding and marketing operations in sports. With the cost of sponsorship and the ROI expectations of sponsors like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai-Kia Motors, Qatar Airways, Visa and Wanda Group, FIFA basically leaves nothing to chance. So, too, do other IP rights holders.

Brand protection measures, whether for FIFA’s own IP, sponsor partners, national federations, and even the managed brands of elite players, are extensive. If you’re interested in diving into the minutiae, start by skimming the Media and Marketing Regulations for the Final Competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. It's worth reading to see the lengths to which FIFA controls the event before, during and after. Consider the following: 

14.2. Merchandising restrictions – past winners

Member Associations which have won previous editions of the FIFA World Cup™ are prohibited from developing, creating, using, selling or distributing any promotional materials or merchandise bearing any representation of the (Replica) Trophy or the Jules Rimet Cup or any mark, emblem or device referring to any past edition of the FIFA World Cup™.


FIFA Trademarks

FIFA doesn’t trademark everything, but it certainly keeps its trademark staff busy. In the USA, FIFA has registered more than 50 trademarks, many for world cup brands. Leading up to Euro 2016, FIFA filed more than 30 applications (national, EU, international) on that tournament’s trademark. 

Marks, words and images relating to the 2018 event that FIFA has sought protection for include:

  • Word mark “FIFA World Cup™”
  • Word mark “World Cup” (including the equivalent in all languages or scripts)
  • Word marks “2018 FIFA World Cup™ Qualifiers” and “2018 FIFA World Cup™ Qualifying Competition” (including the “™”in all versions)
  • FIFA World Cup™ Trophy
  • Official Emblem of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
  • Official Mascot of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
  • Official Slogan of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in the Russian and English version
  • Official Look of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ and its individual elements
  • Official Poster of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
  • Official Host City Composite Logos of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™
  • Official Host City Posters of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

In addition to the official World Cup trademarks, FIFA runs other trademark and licensing activities including its Official Match Ball programFIFA has also registered branding phrases such as To a Greater Goal and FIFA Live Your Goals. (Curiously, Football For Hope, A Time To Make Friends, For the Game. For the World and For The Good of the Game are actually dead).


National Team Trademarks

Each of the competing countries arrive with its own IP. Official crests and insignia are trademarked for control and merchandising programs, particularly reproduction jersey sales. The French Football Federation currently owns 70 trademarks. While the majority are French filings, a handful were filed in Europe and internationally. This graphic illustrates the evolution of the FFF logo. 

Evolution of FFF Logo

Player Trademarks

Like all athletes who perform at the apex of their respective sports, the careers of the top football players are managed like entertainment brands, with playing salaries forming just a portion of overall revenue. The best management teams will develop a player’s personal brand, which requires logos and trademarks. Here are the trademarks registered by some of the biggest names in world soccer. 

Footballer Brands


Other World Cup IP

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home)

First released in 1996 as the official song of the country’s 1996 UEFA Cup effort, this shamelessly hopeful and effortlessly memorable celebration of the country’s previous—and admittedly fewsuccesses enjoys new fame whenever England’s national team surprises. Given the team’s unexpected success in 2018, songwriters Ian Broudie, David Baddiel, Frank Skinner will enjoy an increase in their royalties.

RadioX: The Story Of Three Lions By Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds

Posted by IPfolio | patents

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