Patent trends behind the Olympic Winter Games

22 February 2018

This February, we celebrate the 23rd Olympic Winter Games, hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea. The first “official” Olympic Winter Games were held at Chamonix in the French Alps in 1924, with 16 events, 258 athletes and winter sport equipment and gear that has pioneered what athletes are using today.

Here, we take a look at the rise and fall of some winter sport technologies.

Skiing

Some would assume that Norway or perhaps Germany, Austria or France who experience vast quantities of snow and pioneered skiing, would be number one when it came to applying for patent applications in the skiing technology sector. However, as per the graph below, the USA are in the lead, with just over 3,500 applications and 2,500 grants between 2001 and 2017, followed closely by Germany in the same time period.

Graph 1

However, patent application filings for skiing technologies have generally been on a downhill trend over the last 17 years, except for some small moguls (spikes) in 2006 and 2011. The increase in 2006 may be related to the 20th Olympic Winter Games, held in Torino that year. Granted patents have remained relatively flat compared to the number of filed applications in the same time period, but as one would expect the number of granted applications has generally also decreased. Looking at more recent history from 2015 to 2017, the number of filed applications fell steeply from around 600 applications to around 200 applications. It appears would-be inventors of today may be struggling to innovate modern skiing equipment or they are at least not seeking patent protection for their innovations.

Graph 2

Sliding events

None can argue that sliding events such as Luge (one or two people lying in supine position on a sled, speeding down an icy narrow track) have become increasingly popular over the years. Countries such as the USA and Germany take the lead again when it comes to patent application filings and grants. But again, this event, like skiing, has also seen a decline (except for a slight spike in 2013, pre-Sochi in 2014) in application filings and grants, with less than 50 applications made in 2017. This could be due to little technical advances made in these events or countries choosing not to disclose their secrets in order to gain an edge over the competition.

Countries may also be looking to other sports to improve their performance in sliding events. Team GB’s skeleton team saw great success at this year’s games securing three medals, including gold for Lizzy Yarnold. The suits used by the skeleton team employed the same aerodynamic technology used by the British cycling team, who have dominated cycling at every summer games since 2008.

Graph 3

Curling

It’s not all downhill though – excuse the pun. Known as “the roaring game” Curling became an official sport of the Olympic Winter Games in 1998 and has seen a comfortable rise in patent application filings and grants. Minus a drop from 2005 to 2009, curling saw significant spikes in patent application filings in 2010 and later in 2014. These spikes could be related to the Vancouver and Sochi games in 2010 and 2014, respectively.

Graph 4

And this time it’s Canada who take the lead for the most applications and grants from 2001 to 2017, which isn’t surprising seeing as Canada has had medals in Curling in every Olympic Winter Games since 1998.

Graph 5

Overall, patent applications and granted patents related to the Olympic Winter Games are currently on the decline, but inventors are forever trying to adapt these technologies in the hope of increasing efficiency and competitive advantage. Whether countries are looking to directly innovate winter sports or use technology from other areas to improve their performance, the Olympic Winter Games will always be fiercely contested. UK Sport provided Team GB’s winter Olympic athletes with a total funding budget of £32.3 million over the last four year Olympic cycle, which is almost double the budget for the previous games at Sochi 2014. Other competing nations are sure to be providing funding of a similar or even greater amount.

Although it appears countries are less likely turn to patents in order improve or protect their winter sport innovations, there is clear intent from many countries to continue to push the boundaries of the Olympic Winter Games.

Luke Jones

Luke Jones

Trainee Patent Attorney

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