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It’s a funny old game – World Cup & IP

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Once every 4 years the FIFA Football World Cup (or soccer for our American readers) comes around and incites an unnatural sense of optimism in England supporters around the world that this could be our year. While this is always an event that somewhat brings the people of the country together, some may say the repetitive upsurge of optimism before each World Cup is misplaced. On the eve of the World Cup which marks the 13th tournament and 52 years since the first (and only) World Cup victory of the three lions, it is worth noting that England’s national team have won just 6 matches in the knockout stages of any major international tournament since the 1966 World Cup Victory.

Optimism or pessimism aside, there is always the possibility of a World Cup upset, football is a simple game where anything can happen, as Sepp Herberger (Coach of the 1954 World Cup winning West Germany team) famously once said; “The ball is round, and the game lasts 90 minutes”.

In some cases however, the ball can be too round… That was the complaint of many players, goalkeepers and strikers alike, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


The Adidas Jabulani ball (US8529386) was designed in partnership with the University of Loughborough to be the most accurate ball ever. The ball did away with the traditional stitched leather panels of years gone by, and instead was made from eight thermally bonded polyurethane panels. The resulting ball had fewer and shallower seams than previous balls and this, combined with the smooth synthetic material used for the panels, resulted in a ball whose flight was unpredictable for both goalkeepers and strikers (see England’s Rob Green with a howler here…).  Without boring you with too much detail, a ‘knuckling effect,’ where the ball moves unpredictably due to the aerodynamic flow around it, occurs at different speeds for balls of different roughness. As found by NASA, the knuckling speed for the Jabulani ball was in the range of around 50 mph, near enough to the speed of some attempts on goal which resulted in their unpredictable flight. Let’s hope that the Telstar 18 ball designed for the 2018 World Cup causes fewer problems!


The Telstar 18 ball for this year’s World Cup takes inspiration, at least in name and printed design, from the 1970 Adidas Telstar used for the World Cup in Mexico (the first World Cup to be broadcast worldwide on television, the distinctive pattern making the ball more visible to television viewers). Adidas have had the pleasure of producing the ball for every FIFA World Cup since the Telstar in 1970.

It is not just in the design of the ball that Adidas have had an impact on the World Cup throughout history though. One of the most notable innovations in football boot design came just in time for the 1954 World Cup final in Bern, Switzerland. The West German national team were equipped with Adidas football boots featuring interchangeable studs, allowing the footwear to be adapted to the poor playing conditions in the final. This arguably helped the Germans to a 3:2 victory over the heavily favoured Hungarian national team , having changed their studs to better cope with the heavy rain.


In recent years discussion has arisen as to which of the Dassler brothers, Adolf or Rudolf (for Adidas or Puma), came up with the idea of interchangeable studs. Regardless of the disputes between the two brothers, a patent (Stollen oder bzw. und laufsohle für fußballstiefel – DE 1695594 (U)) for interchangeable studs is dated 1955 and registered in the name of Adolf Dassler. A later patent (DE1739415 (U)) also registered to Adidas in 1957 provides a tool for more easily changing the studs on a football boot which is still the most commonly used tool and method today.

Despite his many successes, Mr Dassler has had his fair share of dead-end inventions, one such invention being DE1998909 (U). The 1968 patent describes a football boot comprising an upper made from fish skin. Paraphrasing claim 1 we arrive at; A football shoe, characterized in that the outer part of the football shoe for making contact with the ball is formed from the scale side of a fish skin. Claims 2 and three state that the upper is to be made from the skin of cartilaginous fish and more specifically sharks – in the description these are given as particularly good examples of fish skin that improve the grip of the shoe with the ball.


Another invention we can’t really see taking off is detailed in WO02076843, a device for lubrication and/or storage of an inflation needle. If you are pumping up your football so regularly that simply licking the needle to moisten it is too much effort, you may be wise to invest in a new football rather than this peculiar invention.


In 2005 Nike Inc. filed a patent application for a sports kit comprising dynamic visual indicators such as counter predictive indicators. These indicators attempt to confuse an observer into incorrectly anticipating the future movement of the wearer of the kit. The visual indicators receive a signal based on the movement of the wearer and then display a visual stimulus indicating the opposite movement to confuse an opponent.  We can’t say we have ever seen any of this fancy kit in action yet, perhaps that means it is doing its job!


Back to the World Cup now and an invention from the USA that provides a way of watching the game and ensuring you never have to leave the action to get another beverage. The invention in US5966743 allows you to keep both hands free whilst transporting a keg of a beverage of your choice ready for refilling the glasses of everyone watching the game with ultimate ease.  The inventor’s website also offers the “Futbol” option for true World Cup fans and assures us that owning this headgear automatically makes you a winner! What better way to watch the game than with a keg of beer balanced precariously on your head…


Alternatively if you are planning on watching a game but have no one to watch it with, who will you celebrate with when your team score that crucial goal? Fear not, a 1994 patent application (US5356330) describes apparatus for simulating a high-five with which you can high-five in celebration to your hearts content!


However you experience the World Cup we hope you have a great tournament and at the very least have some goals to celebrate regardless of which team you are supporting. Who knows, maybe it just could be England’s year after all…

Timo Haslam 14 June 2018

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