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Winning IP battle vital for growth of sporting industry

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Illegal streaming and ambush marketing undermine IP rights and retard growth of sporting industry

There was a time when sport was a class of activities that individuals participated in, possibly competitively, striving to be faster, higher and stronger.

Then came the rise of professional sport.

A report published by A.T. Kearney valued the global spectator sport market at US$265 billion (S$361 billion) in 2017, with sport-related business endeavours contributing to nearly 1 per cent of global gross domestic product.

In July 2007, the European Commission noted that a growing part of the economic value of sport is linked to the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights.

Illegal streaming of sporting events, counterfeit sporting apparel and ambush marketing are some of the many ways in which individuals and syndicates undermine IP rights and retard the growth of the sporting industry.

There are two immediate areas of focus to better safeguard the rights of IP owners against commercial exploitation in the area of sport.

The first is the fight against online piracy and, the second, a proper response to ambush marketing.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority reports 91 per cent of households are equipped with Internet access.

Internet metrics company Ookla recognises Singapore as the country with the second-fastest Internet speeds in the world.

These factors, along with a technologically literate society, continue to provide fertile soil for online piracy to grow.

There are live-streaming websites which circumvent "geoblocks" and paywalls.

More recently, there has also been great consternation over the sales of set-top boxes that are specifically designed to access content from unauthorised sources.

The introduction of the Copyright Act allows rights owners to apply for an order from Internet service providers (ISPs) to disable access to "flagrantly infringing online locations", which are essentially websites that facilitate copyright infringement.

This mechanism has been used in the sporting arena, most recently by the Football Association Premier League to prevent Internet users from accessing unauthorised material online.


This refers to a form of marketing that creates a false impression in the minds of consumersthat an association exists between a company and a sports event or personality where no such association exists.

This is typically achieved through opportunistic placements and advertising, and in doing so, the company seeks to exploit the goodwill associated with a sporting event or take advantage of an athlete's reputation without having to provide financial sponsorship .

In exchange for some form of pecuniary reward, sports personalities or events apply their reputation to the brand in question, boosting the brand's market presence and driving revenue upwards.

It was World IP Day last Friday and it was a timely reminderfor Singapore to bring its formidable reputation for strong IP protection into sport.

It can play its part to push sport to the next level in this country.

The writer is chairman of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. This article appeared in The Business Times last Friday.