Innovation in the sports industry is constantly evolving, with activity driven by digital advancements, high-level of social media interactions, broad appeal for immersive sports experience, and fan engagement as well as the growing importance of technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, cloud, data analytics, wearable tech, and many more. In the last three years alone, there have been over 48,000 patents filed and granted in the sports industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Sports: Protective guards.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

20+ innovations will shape the sports industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the sports industry using innovation intensity models built on over 101,000 patents, there are 20+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, portable dockable scoring machines, aural feedback type sporting equipment, and activity tracking camera network are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Adjustable weight putters, surf simulators, and polyurethane sports accessories are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are sport bats and sport rackets, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for the sports industry

Protective guards is a key innovation area in sports

Athlete safety while participating in a sport depends heavily on personal protective equipment. A crucial component of sports injury prevention is wearing protective equipment.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established sports companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of protective guards.

Key players in protective guards – a disruptive innovation in the sports industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to protective guards

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
NIKE 159 Unlock company profile
TOCA Football 19 Unlock company profile
adidas 17 Unlock company profile
Bauer Hockey 16 Unlock company profile
New Balance 13 Unlock company profile
Bauer Hockey 8 Unlock company profile
Shock Doctor 8 Unlock company profile
headtechnology 8 Unlock company profile
Easton Diamond Sports 8 Unlock company profile
Icon Ip 8 Unlock company profile
Cascade Maverik Lacrosse 8 Unlock company profile
Tonal Systems 7 Unlock company profile
Samsung Group 7 Unlock company profile
Arena Innovation 7 Unlock company profile
Physical Apps 7 Unlock company profile
Wm T Burnett IP 6 Unlock company profile
ROM Technologies 5 Unlock company profile
Brg Sports 5 Unlock company profile
Performance Sports Group 5 Unlock company profile
GHST World 5 Unlock company profile
iFIT Health & Fitness 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

NIKE is one of the leading patent filers in protective guards. Some other key patent filers in the protective guards industry include TOCA Football, adidas, Bauer Hockey, and New Balance.

In terms of application diversity, New Balance leads the pack, while NIKE and Bauer Hockey stand in second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, headtechnology holds the top position, followed by NIKE and Performance Sports Group.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the sports industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Sports.


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.