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Athletes have been seeking a competitive edge since marathon runners first switched from bare feet to sandals in 3000 BC. Sport has the power to unite nations, inspire passion and propel humanity to feats of incredible skill, endurance and dedication. What better theme for this year’s World IP Day as we celebrate the pioneering innovators making the world of sport even more thrilling.

Whether it is kit design that provides a performance enhancement, technology to assist refereeing or software that improves training regimes, sporting inventors have revolutionised their field. We identify five pioneers who have changed sport forever.

Mike Burrows - cycling: Innovations in sports equipment can become the competitive edge that transforms a country’s performance in a sport. Mike Burrows’ design for a monocoque bike was built by Lotus and ridden by Chris Boardman to Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. Great Britain’s first cycling medal for 72 years heralded the start of the country’s rise to global dominance.

Dr Paul Hawkins – ball tracking technology

Sir Geoff Hurst’s second goal in England’s famous 1966 world cup win has always been contested by West Germany. Dr Paul Hawkins’ HawkEye goal-line technology is designed to put such close calls beyond doubt and was first used in a Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan at Wembley in 2013, being adopted in the Premier League that season.

Invented in 1999, HawkEye was already a familiar feature of tennis and cricket matches. Player line call challenges and LBW reviews are a standard feature of today’s games, ensuring players get a fair result when the human eye doesn’t quite match the speed of the ball.   

Dr William Lowell – golf

Imagine Rory McIlroy getting down in the dirt to fashion a sand pyramid from which to take his opening shot. If it wasn’t for Dr William Lowell, who used his dental tools to design the modern golf tee, that might still be the case today. Dr Lowell received a patent for the tee in 1924 and by 1929 was selling 70 million worldwide.

Wayne Pierce – snow sports

When your sport depends on something as fickle as the weather, you need a back-up plan. Wayne Pierce was the first entrepreneur to patent a design for an artificial snowmaker, which he tested on the hills of Grossinger’s Catskill Resort in 1952, being awarded a patent in 1954. Snow cannons are now an integral feature of ski resorts worldwide.

Zebra Player Tracking – team sports

Big data and geo-tracking technology are beginning to have a major impact on team sports training. Logistics company Zebra is leading the field with its patented RFID player tracking system that pinpoints a player’s position and orientation on the field to within 15cm. As well as delivering the stats on player work rate so beloved by pundits, the data is used for insights that improve team performance.

These are just five examples of innovation driving evolution and excellence at the cutting edge of sport. IP rights also play a central role in sports entertainment and promoting engagement in sport around the world, underpinning international events such as the Olympics.

As we celebrate sport during World IP Day 2019 it is a great reminder that, wherever there is competition and innovation, IP rights are critical to protecting and encouraging us to aim higher, faster and stronger.