Those involved in the sports industry are being urged to use intellectual property rights to increase innovations in order to tap into commercial opportunities.
Last week, Rwanda joined the world to mark Intellectual Property Day on April 26 under the theme, Reach for Gold: IP and Sports, to raise awareness among sports players and the private sector about the available opportunities in the sports sector.
Despite an increase in IP registration, officials said the level of innovation in various sectors of the economy is still low and urged citizens to register their inventions to benefit from rights protection.
“Sports industry players should innovate to increase commercial opportunities in sports,” said John Ntirenganya, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, adding, “Sports should contribute more to the economy.”
According to experts, business transactions related to sponsorship, merchandising, broadcasting rights and media deals are all built on IP rights.
However, some innovators may have not registered their IP for protection due to lack of awareness, yet they are unable to fully commercialise their work if it is not protected.
While the registration is not mandatory, authorities are encouraging those who have inventions or innovations to register their work for protection.
“I would like to stress that your property is protected legally when it is registered although registration is not mandatory to register your creative work,” said Richard Kayibanda, the Registrar General at Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Data from RDB shows that IP registration has relatively increased since 2010 where around 400 IPs were registered per year, while in 2018 it was around 1,000.
Currently, the total number of IPs registered are about 18,000 including foreign owned registered IPs.
“We hope that in future there will be more innovations in sports and other sectors,” Mr Kayibanda added. IP rights such as patents, trademarks and broadcasting rights, and associated legal protection help owners to secure the economic value of their innovations.
Lawyer Safari Kizito, who has worked on Intellectual Property issues, said that development of the country’s sports industry is low, but it exists, which means it can be monetised.
“We have various sports disciplines and teams and so there are ways to commercialise sports, but it cannot be achieved illegally,” said Mr Kizito.
He added that some sports federations can sell their naming rights, tournaments, broadcasting rights, but it is not possible if those brands are not registered.
“For instance, ‘Tour du Rwanda’ needs to be registered because anyone can come and sell the cycling event since there is currently no proof of ownership,” said Mr Kizito.
According to people familiar with IP rights in Rwanda some innovations don’t meet international standards while other players don’t understand IP rights in sports industry work.
One of the upcoming sports events that Rwanda will host is “Kigali Peace Marathon” in May and the event’s organisers hope to make it a global event that could attract global sports companies.
Hospitality managers are also looking to host more international sports tournaments such as a global cyclist tournament in 2026 organised by the Union Cyclist International and AfroBasket to tap into the MICE- related market.
Some observers said Rwanda will need to improve its sports performance to reap from IP in sports industry.