TAKEAWAY: While certain applied uses of advanced statistics and metrics may be patent eligible, patenting such methods remains challenging.
Advanced statistics and metrics have become more popular and mainstream in recent years. For example, baseball teams have increasingly relied on wins above replacement (WAR), on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OBPS), batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and defense-independent ERA in player evaluation and development. These metrics inform strategies like player acquisitions, batting line-ups, and defensive positioning and shifts. Similarly, basketball teams have used effective technical shooting percentage (EFT%), true shooting percentage, and real adjusted player efficiency rating, just to name a few. These examples evidence growing investment in technology to collect and apply data in sports. Improvements in radar, object tracking, and the plethora of cameras around most sporting events has increased the amount and availability of data that organizations can sift and sort through.
U.S. Patent No. 10,737,167, which issued in August 2020, is directed to systems and methods for determining a “pitch rating” for a pitch in baseball. According to the ’167 patent, the pitch rating is “indicative of a quality of breaking and non-breaking pitches” and is “calculated by extracting flight parameters from the detection data and multiplying appropriate flight path parameters by pitch rating coefficients.” These parameters are “tailored such that the pitch rating calculation provides a value that is correlated to a subjective opinion on pitch quality provided by an expert.” According to the Athletic, journalists and professionals who analyze pitching statistics were surprised to receive letters from the owner of the ’167 patent to make them aware of the patent.
It remains to be seen the extent to which the industry as a whole will seek patent protection for such methods and systems. One consideration is patent eligibility, a hurdle that many technologies categorized as being “mathematical” or ”abstract” need to clear. Given that teams have been embracing and relying on player data to drive organizational and in-game decisions, patent applicants may find it increasingly difficult to carve out patentable improvements. Perhaps indicative of these challenges is the fact that the sole independent claim of the ’167 patent spans 80+ lines. Enforcement is also an interesting question since the exact way in which an organization runs it analytics may be kept a trade secret, and thus infringement may be difficult to discern.
Yet another consideration is the popularity of advanced statistics among fans. Parties will have to weigh the benefit of protecting these statistics as intellectual property, either via a patent or via a trade secret, against the potential of alienating fans. Furthermore, if different organizations or broadcast networks have different proprietary metrics, then fans would likely be frustrated by not having comparable metrics.