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Patents, Trademarks and the Fitness Industry: How to protect a training method.

Published in: Intellectual Property
by Matteo Saleri
Home > Patents, Trademarks and the Fitness Industry: How to protect a training method.

The work offered by a coach is necessarily something intangible. In most cases, what an experienced trainer offers their athletes or clients is their subject knowledge, enthusiasm, energy, motivation and finally their charisma… all intangibles, don’t you think?

What turns a good trainer into a true fitness and sports entrepreneur are the intellectual property rights he or she holds. These rights can come from Patents, Trademarks and – even – from works subject to Copyright.

In this article, we will look at whether and how a new “training method” can be protected:

  1. Can I patent a new training method?
  2. Athletes and copyright
  3. How can you use the trademark to defend yourself?
  4. How to find the best solution!

1. Can I patent a new training method?

In the European legal system, there is no provision for patenting innovative training methods, unlike in the United States. However, there are precise protection strategies that can be deployed to protect the most innovative ideas. In this article, we illustrate some examples of these strategies that our Law Firm also suggests and implements on a daily basis.

In America, there are several patented training methods. It is enough to know that the Isotonometrics training method devised by Dr. Leonard Schwartz is covered by a valid patent in American territory (U.S. Pat. No. 6,190,291). However, even if – in US territory – the possibility of patenting these innovations is given, this solution remains largely unfeasible.

Frankly, it is quite rare to discover movements of the human body that are so innovative as to meet the requirements of novelty and originality required for patenting. On the other hand, other considerations must be made if one invents training equipment or creates innovative technology for sportswear. These inventions are patentable, even in Europe, if they meet the requirements of the law.

2. Athletes and copyright

Is copyright one of the most effective tools for protecting a new training method? It would seem so.

The suggestion comes from the Court of Milan, which in 2017 – with ruling no. 9423 – ascertained the violation of the moral rights and economic use of numerous original texts by Orlando Pizzolato, two-time winner of the New York Marathon, as they had been copied by one of his students, Andrea Gornati. The latter had slavishly reproduced the contents of Pizzolato’s works in his own publicly disclosed documents. However, it should be kept in mind that the training method cannot be protected as such. What can be protected is the extrinsicisation of the idea/method, i.e. Pizzolato’s texts.

Given the impossibility of “patenting the invention“, the strategy is to write instructions and manuals (complete with tables, graphs, and explanatory drawings of the exercises) or to produce guides and video tutorials explaining the devised training. It is worth remembering that even the web contents of an Internet page or an application are covered by Copyright protection. As a matter of fact, only through a formal representation of your idea, of your method, can you enjoy the protection granted by copyright.

Many companies operating in the fitness sector, not being able to exercise exclusive exploitation rights on the training method considered in itself, focus their business and monetisation strategy on ‘lateral’ elements (such as the brand name), however essential for the implementation of the method.

Zumba®, for example, also monetises its business by licensing original music associated with the brand, specifically composed for training sessions and by marketing video tutorials explaining the workout.

3. How can you use the trademark to defend yourself?

As anticipated, trademark registration can also be a viable alternative to patenting new training methods. A significant observation is the fact that training methods such as Crossfit® and Zumba® are both registered trademarks. Remember that registration grants the trademark owner the exclusive right (i.e. a monopoly) on the use of the registered name.

In order to provide a Crossfit® course, it will be essential to obtain permission to use the name Crossfit® from the one and only trademark owner. In order to obtain such a licence, it is in fact necessary to attend training courses for official/authorised instructors.

Therefore, in order to market a new training system, it will be essential to register a fancy trademark which identifies that specific training method.  This will give you the right to prevent competitors from identifying and thus promoting the same training method. By registering, you will be able to enforce your right to exclusivity and prevent competitors from using your chosen name to identify the official method. After all, in cost-benefit terms, registering a trademark certainly pays off.

It must be remembered that if you neglect to register your trademark, there will be no legal limitation for competitors. They, as well as consumers, will be able to legitimately use the name of the method to recall it.

Even once the trademark has been registered, it will be necessary to monitor the respect of the right on the market (this is to avoid the phenomenon of “vulgarisation“, indeed quite widespread in the world of fitness, provided for by the Industrial Property Code in Article 13 paragraph 4).

A further advantage guaranteed by the use of the trademark lies in the possibility of licensing the title. In this way, as we have seen, a network of trainers (or training centres) can be built to guarantee the same quality standards as the services offered by the creator of the method.

For these reasons, the use of a brand is an excellent way to expand one’s business. Thanks to it, one can gather more athletes and clients than a single coach alone could train.

4. How to find the best solution!

Every innovation needs to be examined individually, especially in the world of sport and fitness.

In this sector, a valuable idea (such as an effective method) can be a valuable resource for starting a new business or gaining a competitive advantage over others in the industry. It is precisely for this reason that one must take steps to protect one’s differential value, that which constitutes the real strength of one’s business project.

It is often decisive to be assisted by intellectual property lawyers from the outset, in order to correctly set up the protection and valorisation of one’s project (perhaps in the form of a start-up).

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Publication date: 10 January 2020
Last update: 7 September 2023
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