Nike, Inc. (NYSE: NKE), which is headquartered in Washington County near Beaverton, OR, is a major developer, manufacturer and marketer of footwear and other athletic apparel all over the world. Known for its high-end footwear touted by professional basketball players and other sports stars, Nike recently unveiled its latest limited-edition sneakers, the “Mamba Moment,” to commemorate Kobe Bryant’s recent move ahead of Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. In it’s most recent earnings report, released in mid-December, the company reported quarterly revenues of $7.38 billion for earnings of 74 cents per share owing mainly to increased consumer demand, especially on the strength of the company’s Converse brand. As we’ll see more below, Nike is trending towards research and development goals involving physical activity data analysis systems implemented through a variety of wearable gadgets.
This first entry for Nike in the Companies We Follow series found a lot of interesting patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the area of golfing. A variety of golf balls have been created by the company, from those with large diameters to accommodate golfers who strike the ball incorrectly to balls utilizing a variety of thermoplastic polymers for enhanced characteristics. A series of patent applications we share also discuss athletic performance analysis systems, both for team sports and for monitoring individual workout data.
Nike’s strong patent portfolio made some intriguing additions in recent weeks that we’ve also profiled for our readers. Golfing was again a large focus in Nike’s recent R&D, and we saw patents for golf swing analysis systems as well as a ball with enhanced recycling characteristics. Nike has also patented a digital watch providing feedback on athletic data collected by athletic monitoring systems. A few footwear patents are also discussed below in more detail, including one that protects a sneaker with an enhanced system for lace tightening.
Nike’s Patent Applications: From Footwear with Enhanced Stability to Athletic Performance Monitoring Systems
Innovation is very much alive and well at the research and development facilities of Nike. The companies activities in invention over the past few years, which has led to products like the wristband wearable FuelBand and the ultralight Flyknit Racer, have earned the company a great deal of respect from some publications. Corporate statements made by Nike on the subject of innovation have focused a great deal on developing sustainable technologies; previous projects include the creation of plant-based plastics and distribution of databases on sustainable materials and chemistry to Nike suppliers. Some of Nike’s sustainable innovation will be seen across the nation in early January 2015 when players from the four teams of the college football playoff will wear a football cleat constructed from about five plastic bottles worth of polyester yarn.
We did see a fair amount of footwear innovations among Nike’s patent applications, although as we’ll explore in a bit, this certainly wasn’t the most active area of invention for the corporation in recent months. Footwear with an exchangeable sole which allows a user to select a shoe sole better suited to a particular physical activity is discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140317960, which is titled Footwear with Separable Upper and Sole Structure. The article of footwear that would be protected by this patent application includes an upper structure with an ankle opening and a bottom portion located opposite the ankle opening and a sole structure with a foot-supporting element which can be inserted into the bottom portion of the upper structure. Along with enabling the ability to change shoe soles to suit different situations, this innovation also provides a shoe where either the upper or sole structures can be replaced instead of having to discard an entire shoe because of wear.
Better foot support during athletic activity is the aim of the invention described within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140360050, filed under the title Footwear with Internal Harness. This patent application claims an article of footwear includes two interior straps, each with a fixed portion, a pulling portion and a wrapping portion, which are connected through the use of a tensioning element. This innovation is designed to improve foot stability relative to the sole by preventing rapid sideways motion of a foot even when the wearer’s feet are more narrow than the sole.
What we did see in our recent survey of Nike’s patent applications was an incredible number of filings in the field of golf equipment, specifically golf balls. There were over a dozen patent applications published by the USPTO in early December that applied specifically to the use of thermoplastic polymers in golf balls, as can be seen in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140357412, which is titled Thermoplastic Multi-Layer Golf Ball. The golf ball claimed by this patent application utilizes a thermoplastic core center with a diameter of about 21 millimeters to about 29 mm; in total, the ball includes three thermoplastic polymer layers with flexural moduli, or ratios of stress to strain which indicates bending properties of a material, ranging from 6,000 pounds per square inch up to 15,000 psi at the core. The configuration of this golf ball improves the ball’s characteristics for a more desirable spin and feel, especially when multiple thermoplastic polymers are used in the construction. A new golf ball which conforms to regulation guidelines established by the U.S. Golf Association is the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140357424, issued under the title Golf Ball with Low Density. This invention involves a golf ball which conforms to USGA guidelines regarding ball diameters and density limits to provide a regulation golf ball with a larger diameter for players who tend to strike the ball above its equator when making contact on a swing; this design provides less aerodynamic drag while the ball is aloft. The patent application would protect a golf ball with a diameter ranging from 43.18 mm up to 46 mm and a density ranging from 0.85 grams per cubic centimeter to 105 g/cm3.
We were also intrigued by a trio of patent applications featuring technologies in the sector of athletic performance tracking and analysis for physical activities ranging from organized team sports to individual exercise routines. Systems of monitoring athletic performance during team-oriented activities are at the center of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140358261, entitled Athletic Performance Monitoring Systems and Methods in a Team Sports Environment. The computer-readable medium claimed by the patent application involves the receipt of information from a plurality of body-worn transceivers attached to a corresponding plurality of players and in communication with the radio tag of a ball. This system could be used by coaches to inform players of skill areas where improvement is needed and help them determine when team improvement has been achieved. Similar monitoring systems for individual athletic workouts are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140330409, which is titled Multi-Sensor Monitoring of Athletic Performance. The method claimed by this patent application involves receiving athletic performance data of an athlete, detecting physical movements through the use of sensors and processing a sensor output that provides a control input to an audio, video or display device. The data derived from this system using sensors such as accelerometers and GPS sensors to provide more accurate feedback on athletic performance to an individual for better gauging of improvement and planning of future fitness goals. Techniques for encouraging the use of personal exercise monitoring services, and for promoting exercise in general, would be protected by U.S. Patent Application No. 20140344045, titled Interactive Use and Athletic Performance Monitoring and Reward Method, System, and Computer Program Product. The patent application claims a method of measuring information regarding physical activity of a user, transmitting the information to a reward determination location, calculating a reward and communicating comparison information of the physical activity of a first and second user. This system, which utilizes measurement devices that are removably attached to articles of clothing, could be used by athletic clothing manufacturers to provide loyalty programs for products based on customer use.
Issued Patents of Note: From Easier Footwear Tightening Systems to cyccyclable Golf Balls
The proclamation by Fast Company that Nike was the most innovative companies during 2013 seems at least a little farfetched. According to statistics for that year released by the Intellectual Property Owners Association, Nike was ranked 122nd globally with 273 U.S. patent grants. Such a patent total is a respectable showing, but far less than the patent portfolios we see in many of the other Companies We Follow. Oddly, some commentators are reporting that Nike earned 540 patents or even as many as 554 patents in 2013, citing USPTO statistics which weren’t linked, conflicting with the numbers we’ve seen. While Nike may be the most innovative company in its sector, something just doesn’t seem right about comparing the innovations of Nike with respect to footwear and apparel against the high-tech, R&D intense Companies We Follow, such as IBM, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others. Nevertheless, despite the Internet hype surrounding Nike’s innovations, it is clear that recent investment into patenting activities has been very strong for Nike and they seem to be gaining steam.
Nike has added a fair amount of footwear patents to its portfolio in recent weeks, a couple of which we wanted to share with our readers today. Innovations designed to improve increase foot stability in a lightweight shoe have been protected for this company through the issue of U.S. Patent No. 8875418, which is titled Tendon Assembly for an Article of Footwear. This patent claims an article of footwear that includes a tendon assembly secured to the shoe between the sole and a fastening region such that the tendon is free to move longitudinally and laterally. This design is intended to increase foot support with a structure while maintaining the shoe’s lightweight and breathable characteristics.
A shoe with an improved construction for easier tightening of laces is disclosed and protected by U.S. Patent No. 8898931, entitled Folded Loop Fastening System for an Article of Footwear. This invention is intended to improve a wearer’s ability to tighten various shoes, from running shoes to hiking boots to sneakers. The patent claims an article of footwear that includes a lacing element associated with a fastening portion and a lace formed from a continuous strip of material and a series of eyestays configured to receive the lace. The eyestays used in this configuration are designed to require less tightening force than footwear that utilizes eyelets for the lacing element.
Along with the patent applications regarding physical activity monitoring systems discussed above, Nike has received some intriguing patents in the same sector over the past few weeks. U.S. Patent No. 8909318, issued under the title Apparel for Physiological Telemetry During Athletics, protects a system of monitoring physiological data in a user to optimize performance and safeguard his or her health. It claims a system for physiological parameters telemetry that includes a garment with a skin-facing side and an outward-facing side that contains a user interface component comprised of a conductive transfer layer with a bottom side that contacts a user’s skin through holes in the garment. This physiological monitoring system is designed to be less cumbersome to the wearer than conventional heart rate monitors or other sensing equipment. Golfers who are looking to improve their personal game may want to take note of the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 8882606, entitled Golf Swing Data Gathering Method and System. The patent claims a system for capturing and communicating golf swing data, including both club-related and ball-related data, requiring the use of data transmission elements within both the ball and the club. The invention is intended to provide golfers with a platform where they can view important aspects of their golf game, including golf ball speed, flight spin or golf club orientation at the point of contact, and see what they need to improve.
Hardware products that are able to implement these and other physical monitoring systems developed by Nike are described within U.S. Patent No. 8886297, issued under the title Adaptive Watch. The patent protects an apparatus with a processor that executes instructions which prompts a user to exercise at successive intensity levels based on an approximate breathing rate of a user and a provides a user prompt to maintain a heart rate based on determination of a plurality of heart rate zones based on heart rate measurements received from a sensor. This innovation provides a portable electronic console to an athletic user which conserves power while not in use, can be easily worn by an athlete and provides feedback on numerous functions made possible through the use of multiple electronic sensors to control the convenient display of physical activity data.
More patents regarding golfing products were readily available in the list of Nike patents that we were able to peruse. A technology which enables the increased recycling of golf balls is the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8905861, entitled Ball Incorporating Element to Remove Cover. The golf ball protected by this patent includes a cover disposed radially and outwardly of the ball’s core and at least one separator positioned within the ball and designed to separate at least part of the cover from a core when exposed to a chemical reaction stimulus. By improving the ease of separating the ball cover from its core, this innovation overcomes one of the major shortcomings in recycling deteriorated golf balls with usable ball cores caused by the use of adhesives when joining a cover and a core to form a golf ball.