Is Usain Bolt's celebration trademarked? Can other athletes copy it? An intellectual property lawyer explains

 
Joe Hall
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Usain Bolt Puma
Brand Bolt? The sprinter is expected to retain his close relationship with Puma (Source: Getty)

Think Usain Bolt and a handful of images immediately spring to mind; gold medals, great gaps between him and a gasping field of competitors struggling to keep up and — of course — his famous leaning back, arms outstretched celebration.

Saturday night's men's 100m final at the IAAF World Championships will be the last time we see Bolt sprinting over the finish line, but don't expect that 'lightning bolt' pose to disappear from the public consciousness anytime soon.

Sharon Daboul, senior associate at intellectual property law firm EIP, explains why.

Is Bolt's celebration — like Gareth Bale's 'heart' gesture — trademarked?

Daboul: "Yes. Bolt has registered a number of trademarks, covering his name, the 'lightning bolt' pose, his signature, the slogan “BOLT TO THE WORLD” and most recently, his initials. He clearly understands the importance of protecting and commercialising his personal brand."

Why?

Daboul: "Whilst Usain Bolt has made his name as a sportsman, his brand insignia can be used to sell a huge range of merchandise, from perfume to clothing to sports products. Licensing can generate a valuable income that will outlive his years as a sportsman. Through careful brand management, his name and image have the potential to become his most important asset, and lasting legacy. An example is the tennis champion Fred Perry, whose name is now synonymous with fashion and sportswear, far above his tennis career as an individual, or Michael Jordan's 'Air Jordan' brand for Nike."

Read more: Is Usain Bolt retiring just at the right time?

15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 - Day Six
Bolt's celebration has become iconic around the world (Source: Getty)

So the celebration could become a brand logo?

Daboul: "Right. The 'lightning bolt' pose has been registered as a figurative mark, which means that he could stop others from using that logo, or a similar sign, on merchandise."

Does that mean no other athlete can do the celebration?

Daboul: "It’s unlikely that he could stop others from copying the physical gesture itself, nor is the gesture likely to meet the requirements for protection as a trademark. This means that fans, and other personalities, may imitate the pose without having to pay royalties. Trying to prevent others from imitating his gesture would seem counter-productive, in any event, as the gesture is used as a promotional tool which helps to elevate his status. However, Bolt now has the exclusive right to sell clothing and other merchandise bearing its likeness."

Read more: What's next for Usain Bolt? Puma boardroom could await for Jamaican sprinter after retirement

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