Victory in sports resulted in many iconic expressions of celebration from the athletes. These include Christiano Ronaldo’s ‘Siu’ celebration, Mo Farah’s iconic ‘mobot’ and Gareth Bale’s ‘Eleven of Hearts’, to name a few.
Considering the billions of dollars in the sportswear and merchandise industries, as well as sports games, it’s no surprise that athletes want to consolidate their brands. Intellectual property (IPs) is the vehicle to achieve this. Famous athletes, such as David Beckham, have already filed trademark applications for various iterations of their name and developed multi-million dollar brands. But what about the victory dance or the celebratory pose? Can a pose that celebrates sporting success turn into commercial success?
Victory Pose Trademarks
Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world and holder of eight Olympic gold medals, is no different from the athletes mentioned above. After winning the men’s 200-meter event at the 2016 Olympics, Bolt celebrated his victory with the now-iconic “To the World” pose, a custom Jamaican dance move.
Bolt recently filed a trademark application for his famous victory pose in connection with sunglasses, jewelry, apparel, sporting goods, restaurants and sports bars. The application submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office was for a logo consisting of
“the silhouette of a man in a distinctive pose, with one arm bent and pointing towards the head, and the other arm raised and pointing upward.”
The request follows a false start in 2009 where Bolt recorded a “depiction of a man with one arm outstretched and pointing upwards and the other arm raised and touching his head” for a range of goods and services , including clothing, sportswear, sports equipment, and beverages. However, this was reversed in 2017 due to a lack of evidence that he was using the mark to sell products in the United States, a requirement of US trademark law.
Mo Farah, known for celebrating with his hands above his head in an “M” shape, registered the pose known as “mobot”, as a design mark for a wider range of products. By signing up for a wide range of products, Mo Farah has positioned itself to take full commercial advantage of the “mobot” pose. He may, exclusively, use the registered trademark in the production and marketing of goods or services, or to enter into licensing agreements in many sectors, including fashion, sportswear, sports equipment, computer software, games and media, books, home furnishings, stationery, and children’s toys.
Computer game companies such as EA Sports spend hundreds of millions of dollars licensing intellectual property rights to club names, jerseys, sponsors and fan chants, to make their games as realistic as possible for the user. Computer games featuring famous athletes could be considered lacking in realism without the inclusion of their iconic victory poses. As Mo Farah registered the “mobot” pose for computer software and games, it would probably need to be licensed by a game company before it could be used. With the emergence of the Metaverse, it is very likely that EA Sports will make more use of virtual reality in its games. This may raise other licensing issues, for example if the user is facilitated to reproduce a registered trademark in the metaverse. Our information on specifying marks to be used in the metaverse can be found here.
Monetizing an iconic victory pose can be an effective brand-building method for athletes. The potential commercial value of the pose should not be underestimated, with Nike’s “Jumpman” logo, featuring a silhouette of Michael Jordan with a basketball, estimated to be worth more than $5 billion. .
By gaining brand protection for victory poses, the goal or the gold medal that brought sporting success can result in additional commercial success for the athlete. Companies producing merchandise incorporating a protected victory pose need a license from the owner to use the trademark. This will invariably be granted in exchange for monetary payment. For athletes, saving a victory pose for computer games or software can unlock a lucrative market, which could be further boosted by the metaverse.