Intellectual Property Protection, Global Expansion & the Unique Challenges for Transnational Mixed Martial Arts Organizations


Intellectual property owners in today’s ever-evolving technological world often face significant challenges when it comes to protecting their intellectual property at home and abroad. As alluded to in my previous blog, mixed martial arts organizations such as the UFC face arguably more substantial challenges in safeguarding their intellectual property rights than do primarily domestic sports organizations due to the highly transnational nature of the mixed martial arts business. Whenever the UFC (or any other MMA promotion) enters a new market, there are unique challenges and threats to consider, such as complying with local legislation or determining what legal enforcement mechanisms available. Regardless of these challenges, UFC President Dana White remains committed to developing his company into a global sports mpire, as evidenced by the UFC events held across North America and in Canada, England, Ireland, Germany, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil.[1] On October 12, 2011, a press conference was held for the UFC’s return to Toronto, the city that played host to UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields. UFC 129 was landmark event for the sport as it sold out the Toronto Roger’s Centre and set North American MMA records with 55,724 attendees and a $12,075,000 gate.[2] While there are clearly financial upsides for companies that are headquartered in the United States to expand their business operations around the world, with this expansion also come important legal considerations.[3]

Intellectual properties, such as patents, trademarks and copyrights, are critical to the longevity and success of most multi-national enterprises (“MNEs”) in today’s global economy. For this reason, the significant majority of MNEs rely on their in-house legal departments to protect these intellectual properties domestically and internationally. These legal departments are generally responsible for registering any patents, trademarks, or copyrights that an enterprise may wish to protect in the United States and in other countries around the world. However, not all countries adhere to the same strict standards of intellectual property rights protection followed by the United States. As intellectual property rights are often crucial to an enterprise’s commercial success, MNEs must take into consideration the legal protections that a country has in place before expanding and potentially threatening the integrity of their intellectual property rights in a given region. Therefore, most MNEs operate by
retaining ownership of all intellectual property rights and authorizing their use by subsidiaries or third parties.[4] This methodology helps an MNE to protect its most valuable business assets while also allowing for growth and expansion.

When an MNE establishes a strong presence in a foreign market through its technology, brands and marketing, this is often when the problems truly begin in terms of protecting  its intellectual property. Generally, with increased presence comes an increase in the unauthorized copying, infringement and theft of intellectual property. In this context, MNEs often become victims of their own success. For some MNEs, piracy may mostly involve the unauthorized copying and distribution of physical goods and products but, for other companies (such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent entity Zuffa LLC) piracy primarily takes the form of the illegal digital distribution of content via the internet and other media outlets.[5] This type commercial piracy can lead to tremendous amounts of lost sales revenue, especially for an organization such as the UFC, which heavily relies on income from pay-per-view sales. Ultimately, multi-national enterprises that pride themselves on the transnational scope of their business dealings must take aggressive, proactive steps to address intellectual property threats before they become markedly detrimental to their bottom line.

[1] See
for a full list of all past UFC events.

[2] UFC 129 Officially Breaks Live
Gate, Attendance Records,
(last visited Oct. 12, 2011).

[3] Daniel C.K. Chow and Edward Lee, International Intellectual Property:
Problems, Cases & Materials
757 (2006).

[4] Daniel C.K. Chow and Edward Lee, International Intellectual Property:
Problems, Cases & Materials
761 (2006).

[5] It’s Far From Over: the UFC Once
Again Gunning for Internet Pirates | MMA News,
(last visited Oct. 12, 2011).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *