World Cup Fever … a ball and a patent.

Our resident Brit, Emma Roubtsov tackles World Cup Fever, the all-important ball, and of course, the patents that accompany it.

Growing up in England no weekend would be complete without seeing my dad in his armchair, cup of tea in hand, watching his favorite football (read: soccer) team on the TV. It was almost a religious event, one that could not be interfered with, under any circumstances. The fervor only increased once every four years when the Football World Cup would consume endless broadcasting hours, and of course, consume my dad not only at the weekends but also during the week.

Football is a big deal where I come from. I was brought up to support Tottenham Hotspurs and to cheer for England, no matter their chances (and more often than not, their chances weren’t great), during the World Cup. Even now, fellow Brits talk of their English victory at home over Germany back in 1966 with tears in their eyes; Pickles is a national hero! A dog that found the missing World Cup trophy days before the final match. As you can understand, we take this stuff seriously.

So seriously in fact, I have already started to look forward to the World Cup this year in Brazil and got to wondering about the different areas of the sport that no doubt would be patented, from the material for the jerseys the players would be wearing, the FIFA official watch to the football itself. Back in 2010 in South Africa, the ball was probably the most criticized item from the championship overall, closely followed by the noise from all those plastic instruments!

For many years now, Adidas AG has had the pleasure (and as in 2010 the pain) of making the championship ball. Thanks to the BBC, their article: Brazuca: Secrets of the new World Cup ball gave me just what I needed to learn more about the most important part of the whole championships, the ball and what was going to be different about it this time around. And naturally as my curiosity increased, my fingers itched to log in to Innography to see if I could find the patent behind the ball.

One of the most beautiful things about Innography is the directed Semantic Search capability. Not being an expert in football material or construction, it allowed me the flexibility of exploring this area, producing relevant results. I didn’t have to struggle with keywords, syntax or the endless, arduous task of thinking of synonyms for all the different parts of the technology. 

Reading the BBC article, I copied and pasted into the Semantic Search engine a multitude of sentences that described the technology behind the ball. I focused on the texture, the thermal bonding of the seams, the large, continuous polyurethane panels and so on. I pointed this description directly into Adidas AG’s active patent portfolio. I hit enter and waited for Innography to return to me the 1000 most semantically relevant patents to the jumble of text I had submitted from the BBC article and crossed my fingers.

By Jove, I think I found it! US8622856 B2: Three-dimensional panels for a game ball and related methods (for Innography users there is a much more pleasant view here.) The patent published in January, 2014 claims priority to US20040144477. 

Reading the Background of the Invention sheds light on some of the deficiencies of previous styles of manufacturing footballs and gives weight to this new design. The patent claims also speak almost directly to the elements of the ball that the BBC article mentions:

  • Claim #1: A multi-layer outer panel for forming an outer layer of a game ball which is inflatable by air, a plurality of the multi-layer outer panels being interconnected for forming the outer layer….
  • Claim #5: The multi-layer outer panel of claim 5, wherein the thermoplastic elastomer is selected from the group consisting of polyurethane, polyester, polyamide, polyolefin, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polybutadiene.
  • Claim #7: The multi-layer outer panel of claim 7, wherein at least one of the inner surface and the outer surface of the first material comprises imprinted patterns, text, or graphics.
  • Claim #9: The multi-layer outer panel of claim 1, wherein the outer surface of the at least one backing layer and the inner surface of the top layer are connected by at least one of a chemical bond, a physical bond, and an adhesive.

I am, of course, no expert here but feel confident that if I didn’t hit the nail of the head then I came extraordinarily close.

I understand though, that for England to win the Football World Cup this year, it will take more than some new patented technology of an Adidas ball. It will take some grit and perseverance in the style of the British Bulldog coupled with some sheer skill and a huge dose of Good Luck. I shall be there watching, no doubt, my dad will be too, cup of tea in hand.


Patent Attorney, 07.22.2014

It’s a real shame that it didn’t work out for us! It’s nice to know that it’s such a religious event in your house!

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