The creative nature of football innovation

case keenum Inasmuch as Texas has always been a hotbed of innovation in football, this guest Freakonomics post by law professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman caught my eye:

The theory behind copyright is simple – if we allow anyone to copy a good new idea, then no one will come up with the next one.  The theory makes perfect sense – in theory. [.  .  .]

There has been a lot of innovation in football, in both offensive and defensive systems.  But there has been virtually no attempt to copyright or patent these innovations.  There are some serious doctrinal hurdles, but it’s not impossible to imagine the law providing protection. [.  .  .]

So why do football coaches continue to innovate, even when they know that their rivals will study their innovations, take them and use them?  That is, why do football coaches engage in intellectual production without intellectual property?

The authors go on to characterize football as one of the industries in which innovation is best facilitated by intense competition rather than by copyright protection of new ideas. But what is interesting is that, even with the innovations of the pass-happy offenses of the past decade or so, the top teams at the highest levels of college and professional football continue to be the ones that balance an effective passing offense with a solid rushing attack that can wean time off the clock to protect a lead.

Sometimes the more things change in football, the more they remain the same.

1 thought on “The creative nature of football innovation

  1. A college football coach would seem to have little incentive to copyright/ patent a new scheme. As an employee of a given University, the copyright/ patent would belong to the University, not the coach.
    If there was a specific innovation patented, I would expect a claim of “prior art” to be used against an infringement suit. As for a copyright violation being asserted, one would expect the defendants to point out that college football is, at its core, a teaching endeavor and therefore the doctrine of fair use, as applied to educational enterprises, would allow the use of the new scheme.
    I would love to listen in on an argument in court whether college football has anything whatsoever to do with education.
    Oh, and coaches innovate because if they do so successfully, they get contract extensions that are worth millions. Most coaches would gladly take millions guaranteed now and let the university or the team owner worry about protecting IP rights.

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