President & CEO

Legal innovation or unfair competitive advantage?

President & CEO

Interesting article about a new swimsuit from Speedo that is causing swimming records to fall like nine-pins. The International Swimming Federation has approved the suit but a lot of questions remain.

It is not clear as to whether the suit will be available to all swimmers thus providing a standard basis of comparison across swimmers. One of big questions is whether it would be appropriate for a swimmer who is unable to use the suit for any number of reasons (economics could be one of the big factors here), to lose to a "poorer" swimmer who is wearing the suit?

As a keen follower of American Football, I have closely watched the drama around Spygate where the New England Patriots were deemed to have used unfair competitive practices by "openly" video-taping opponents signals to gain an advantage over other clubs. Questions have been raised about whether the records achieved by the Patriots need to have an asterix next to them. On same grounds, should an asterix be placed next to swimming records that are broken by swimmers wearing the suit on the grounds that it provides an unfair advantage?

One of interesting aspects to me is the role of the standards body – whether it be FINA (swimming's governing body) or the NFL standards committee – and how each group is choosing to address the emergence of technology into their respective sports. Some are openly embracing innovative technologies, others are putting firmer restrictions in place.

In the corporate world, the SEC plays a key role in managing the rules of the game as far as US corporate practices go. I wonder where they draw the line in the use of technology as a competitive advantage. For instance, if someone were to come up with a patented tool that allowed them to purchase/sell shares on Wall Street faster than anyone else (turning them into a superman/superwoman broker of sorts), would that be ok?

Back to the swimming world, FINA has approved the suit thus giving a thumbs-up to innovation in the sport. But by doing so they have might have set up a unfair platform, at least for the short term. Clearly, the suit provides a competitive advantage to the person wearing it. So its in the best interest for all swimmers to wear it.