Nike Inc. (NKE:US) says it can make a golf shirt that could replicate what a coach does.
The world’s largest maker of sporting goods obtained about a dozen patents on Aug. 27, including one invention with the potential to irk golf pros.
“A coach or trainer can greatly improve an athlete’s form or body positioning, which can result in improved athletic performances,” Nike said in a patent filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “For most people, however, a coach or trainer is not always available” and there isn’t an easy way to check positioning on your own, Nike said.
Enter what the sponsor of Tiger Woods describes as “articles of apparel providing enhanced body position feedback.” The clothing will have tighter material in areas key to a repetitive movement, like a golf swing. The snugger fit increases muscle stimulation, giving a better feel that will improve form, help a coach normally would provide by watching the golfer perform, the document said.
Nike has prospered even in hard times with a sustained focus on innovation, from air-pocket sneaker soles in the 1980s to last year’s Flyknit shoe, whose upper is woven like a sock. While these aren’t always the company’s best-sellers, they give its brand credibility -- as does paying the world’s most famous athletes to wear them on television.
That helps Nike charge a premium for its gear and allowed it to boost sales (NKE:US) 8.5 percent to $25.3 billion in the fiscal year ended May 31. Nike shares have advanced 22 percent this year, compared with 14 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Obtaining a patent doesn’t mean for certain that the invention will be used in a product. Companies are granted millions of patents a year and many never become a reality.
In the golf patent, Nike describes thin elastic material embedded into the part of the garment that covers the lower back to heighten sensation. That part of the body is essential to a swinging motion and is impossible to see and difficult to feel while performing, which is why a coach is needed to give feedback, the document said.
Besides boosting performance, the shirt also could lower injury risk by keeping athletes in proper form as they swing a golf club or a baseball bat over and over again, Nike said.
Mary Remuzzi, a company spokeswoman, declined to comment on the patent and when such products might go on sale.
Under U.S. Golf Association rules, compression and posture garments are allowed during competition while clothes designed to store and release energy aren’t, said Joe Goode, a spokesman for the Far Hills, New Jersey-based group that governs golf rules in the U.S. and Mexico. He declined to comment on whether a product based on the Nike patent would be permitted.
Nike has been much more active in securing U.S. patents than competitors. It’s obtained more than 650 since the beginning of 2012, according to patent office data. Adidas, the second-largest sporting-goods maker with revenue of 14.7 billion euros ($19.4 billion) in the past four quarters, has 30 U.S. patents in the same period. Under Armour Inc. (UA:US), which is a much smaller company, had 24. By comparison, tech giant Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) was awarded almost 500 in the past three months.
Many of Nike’s latest patents integrate digital technology into sports equipment so users can measure and improve results. Last year the company introduced the FuelBand bracelet. It tracks daily activity while sensor-equipped shoes record data such as how high a basketball player jumps during a dunk.
One of the patents obtained this week falls into that category. It’s a USB device embedded into a bracelet that uses a shoe sensor to determine how far the wearer has run. The device plugs into a computer to transfer and analyze data.
Golf is a major focus as the company tries to maintain last year’s 9 percent sales growth at its Nike Golf brand. It has filed about 70 golf-related patents this year.
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