American gymnast Simone Biles captivated a nation with her thrilling performance at the 2016 Olympics. Biles brought home gold medals in the team all-around, individual all-around, vault, and floor exercise. She also took home a bronze medal in the balance beam.
The highlight of her Olympic performance came in her best event, the floor exercise. In her floor routine, Biles completed two laid out back flips followed by a half twist on a tumbling pass. The move is so incredibly difficult, she is the first to perform it. Because she was the first to do it, the move, both unofficially, and officially in the gymnastics governing bodies’ ‘Code of Points’ is known as “The Biles“.
That raises an interesting question. Could Simone Biles get a copyright on the gymnastics move that is now named after her? The career of a gymnast is, after all, fleetingly short. It makes sense for Biles to try to monetize her success and take advantage of her talents to the maximum amount possible. What easier way to do so than to collect a royalty every time another gymnast does the The Biles?
Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. To qualify for a copyright, Biles move would have to meet the criteria for being issued a patent. That criteria hinges on three major factors. 1. Is it useful? 2. Is it non-obvious? 3. Is it novel?
The Biles would certainly seem to meet the first criterion. It was extremely useful in helping Biles win an Olympic gold medal. And, would have great utility for any future gymnast that was able to pull off such a difficult move.
The last two criteria are where things get tricky. The Biles is made up of three consecutive moves–a pair of laid out back flips, plus a half twist–that are individually considered fairly common in gymnastics. Therefore, it could be argued that The Biles is not a non-obvious improvement. It is not difficult to conceive the idea of doing the move, though the actual execution of the idea is extremely difficult to do.
The other issue stems from the novelty of the move. In order to receive a copyright, Biles would have to prove that her move was not mentioned in any published document prior to filing for her patent. Biles move had to be entered into the gymnastics ‘Code of Points’ in order to be scored at the competition. Therefore, one could argue that the move then falls under public use. If Biles had practiced her move in front of teammates or other gymnasts prior to filing for a patent, that would also make it public use. Biles would have had to file a patent on The Biles before she used it in competition in order to have any hope of obtaining a copyright on it.
It seems extremely unlikely that Simone Biles would be able to get a copyright on The Biles. Perhaps that is for the best. Simone Biles raised the bar for what female gymnasts are capable of. Part of the thrill of the sport is seeing other athletes strive to reach that bar, and then raise it yet again. It would be a shame to see that progress halted over copyrights and other legalities. It is theoretically possible that an athlete could copyright a specific move. However, this would be an extremely difficult process, and one that seems to go against the spirit of competition and sports.
Despite the fact that she likely won’t be able to copyright it, getting The Biles officially in the gymnastics Code of Points is a huge honor for Simone Biles. It is one that certainly comes with other side benefits. It improves her marketability to be known as the only gymnast in the world to do that move. Biles’ name is likely to be brought up for decades to come as other athletes try to match her feat.