Q: Starting a sports league with a unique format. Can Intellectual property help protect the format from being copied?
I have a concept for a track and field league that I'm putting together with a unique format. Before I put it fully together I wanted to know if I could protect the idea so it can't be copied by others. It's a different system then a normal track meet .The events will be the same but the order, point scoring, and league aspects are different.
A: I will not speak to patent protection, as that's outside of my practice area. Copyright law will protect the expression of your ideas or rules, that is, the creative organization of words used to write the rules, but not the underlying ideas or rules themselves. Trademark law will protect your brand and identity, but not the underlying format or ideas behind your track and field league.
Games can be patented, though you may wish to evaluate the costs and benefits of investing in a patent. Are you seeking investors or financing where an IP asset may be necessary to attract capital? Do you want it for posterity (just to say that you have intellectual property)? Are you trying to prevent others from copying your league?
The cost of securing a patent can range from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the complexity of the idea and the prior art (what is already known). In contrast, securing trademark rights is relatively inexpensive, costing as little as a few hundred dollars. A copyright registration is also very inexpensive ($30 filing fee). My first recommendation is to come up with a good logo and brand identity, and then, depending on your success, you might be able to scale it by licensing the brand into other geographies. Consider cross fit or zumba. They're both brands, but otherwise they have little other IP. Your brand can be a very powerful asset, and can lead to commanding very good licensing fees (cross fit charges thousands to use its name).
Finally, if you have ideas about how to (1) organize the league, (2) strategically market the league, or (3) operate the league, and those ideas are not necessarily disclosed, they may be eligible for trade secret protection.
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