The Olympics represent the cutting edge of athleticism, the peak of athlete performance. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that these athletes want the cutting edge in their gear. This has led to history of Olympic invention.
In 1912, the Olympics’ need for more accurate timing results led to the invention of the first electronic timer. The Berlin Games in 1936 saw the world’s first televised broadcast of a sporting event. In 1960, here in California, the first ever instant replay was used when officials weren’t sure whether a skier had missed a gate.
The Olympics has also led to more specialized inventions—lightweight laminate to speed up skis, motion capture technology used to track and optimize movements, bobsleds designed by BMW, sensors from missile guidance systems used to perfect sportswear, and more.
This inventive drive has generated numerous patents on the many attempts to give athletes the competitive edge. Patents, a source of legal protection on new, non-obvious inventions, allow inventors to unveil inventions at the Olympics and then have a temporary monopoly on the sale and manufacture of that invention after the world sees it in action on their favorite competitor.
Innovations of Rio 2016
Rio 2016, despite the many controversies around the location, has seen a number of innovations in how the games are held. The torch itself has a new design, including movable segments which open up every time it passes hands in order to reveal more of the colors of the Brazilian flag. It also had cameras attached to it for the first time, recording its path to the Olympic flame.
There will also be over 100 hours of Rio 2016 filmed for 360-degree virtual reality viewing on Samsung Gear VR—the first time people will be able to virtually experience visiting the Olympics. The use of drones for filming has allowed for unprecedented levels of coverage of the events.
However, while these innovations are amazing in their own right, the true nature of the Olympics is the continuing quest to be the strongest, fastest, and best in athletics. To this end, we have seen several patents which will make Olympians that much faster.
Gotta Go Fast
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Nike has long been a serious player in designing Olympic gear. The marketing opportunities of being the gear worn by the Olympic team is too good for an athletic gear-focused company like Nike to miss.
This year, as with the last Olympics, Nike has introduced a number of patented innovations for the Olympians. For instance, they received a new patent in 2014 on Apparel with Reduced Drag Coefficient. This isn’t exactly a marketing friendly name for a product, so Nike instead calls their new patented material Aeroswift.
Aeroswift isn’t entirely new, the first design was introduced in the 2012 Olympics. However, Nike says the AeroSwift has seen serious improvements. The new version of the material is 10% lighter and has 50% more stretch. The new textures are also designed to reduce wind resistance for athletes by attaching panels of the material. This method circumvents some of the competitive bans on additional clothing or gear in events.
Swimsuits so Fast They Had to Ban Them
The inventiveness of gear has essentially required Olympic committees to limit what gear can be used. Innovation in swimsuits, for example, has been so aggressive that the Olympic Committee has actually banned some of the innovations as uncompetitive after 89% of the medals won in 2008 were won by swimmers wearing Speedo’s patented LZR full body swimsuit. The suit, drawing inspiration from the form of sharks, was so effective that 2008 saw the shattering 23 out of 25 total world records.
The bans limited the amount of the body that could be covered and the types of materials that could be used to make a swimsuit. However, this was far from the end of patented invention in swim gear. Following these bans, Speedo began work on different kinds of innovations in swimming gear. They ultimately created a “jammers” style swimsuit, cap, and goggles combination they call the Fastskin 3 system. They applied for 9 different patents on the innovations that went into the Fastskin system. The suits were used in the 2012 Olympics. For the Rio Olympics, Speedo has revealed a new Fastskin LZR Racer X swimsuit boasting thinner fabric, more flexibility, and an “X” strip on the backside to provide snapback on turns.
Speedo is not alone in the quest for the most competitive gear. Michael Phelps, famed U.S. swimmer, also has his own line of swimsuits using a new type of material called Exo-Core—created by a company called Aqua Sphere. They’ve also created a patented goggle design offering full peripheral vision as well as caps which are more wrinkle resistant—creating less drag in the water.
Limitations Breed Creativity
The limitations on gear design for the Olympics, necessary in the face of how incredibly effective gear became, was heralded as the end of Olympic innovation. However, the years since and the many patents filed on Olympic gear have proven that these limitations simply served to focus the areas that inventors worked on.
Patents serve to drive invention by offering a reward to inventors for bringing their innovations to the public. However, the motivation of the Olympics has always taken inventors even further. The future will see sporting gear taken to even greater heights.
Authored by Jonathan Lurie, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law