From Our Committees

An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Protect IP: LEXI Graphics System for Paralympic Games

Published: December 17, 2021


Kenneth D. Suzan Barnes & Thornburg LLP Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Public Information Committee—Bloggers Subcommittee

Seven-time British Paralympian swimming champion Giles Long knows firsthand that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Mr. Long is the creator and sole owner of the LEXI graphics system which has demystified and clarified the way in which Paralympic Games classifications are communicated over a wide range of media. The groundbreaking tool has enhanced both the accessibility and enjoyment of this major international competition for disabled athletes for millions of viewers around the world.

In 1983, at the age of seven, the UK-born athlete joined his first swimming club and set his sights on becoming an Olympic swimmer. He trained his heart out, but, unfortunately, when he was 13, treatment for a broken arm revealed that he had a bone tumor. This led to two years of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and multiple operations, culminating with a prosthetic replacement of his right humerus.

These health challenges did not stop Mr. Long. And it did not hinder his participation in swimming competitions. He won a gold medal in the 100 m butterfly during the 1996 Atlanta (Georgia, USA) Paralympic Games and later garnered two additional gold medals during the 2008 Sydney (Australia) Paralympic Games, where he also set a world record in the 100 m butterfly.

In 2007, Mr. Long retired from the world of competitive swimming and shifted lanes to television broadcasting and motivational speaking. He also authored his autobiography, Changing to Win, in 2010.

The spark for the LEXI graphics system occurred during the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. Mr. Long realized that television viewers were confused by the complex system of how athletes were placed in the competitions—by grouping athletes by disability and using various letters and numbers to communicate the relevant classification.

“With Paralympic sports, people just didn’t understand what they were watching,” he suggested.

This lack of clarity prompted him to create a method that graphically explains the Paralympic Games classification system. Mr. Long read the technical manuals for each sport, consulted with experts, and used color pencils and paper to develop an entirely new system for communicating the classifications.

“The classification was the lexicon of Paralympic sports, and we were decoding it,” Mr. Long explained.

LEXI, short for LEXICON DECODER, uses a graphic image of a humanoid figure in various poses, with a traffic-light based color system, to depict different disabilities and more clearly explain the rules of parasport. Over 300 different individual LEXI characters are used like a typeface to explain different classification types.

The colors green, yellow, orange, and red are employed to convey no impairment, mild impairment, moderate impairment, and severe impairment, respectively. The color of the figure’s head reflects learning disabilities, while missing limbs are communicated by removing a particular limb from the overall graphic. A smaller humanoid figure is used to represent dwarfism.

The graphics “mimic a state of readiness,” according to Mr. Long. For example, a track runner is depicted standing before the block and looking at the lane; this communicates energy awaiting to be released.

The system illustrates the “what, who, and why,” Mr. Long said. “In television, everything needs to be done quickly. It’s a way of speaking 1,000 words in 10 seconds.”

Mr. Long first introduced the system in 2012 when serving as a broadcaster for a British network, Channel 4, during the London Paralympic Games. With the LEXI system helping to demystify the sport classification, viewers embraced the imagery.

According to the LEXI website, LEXI has appeared on TV screens in 137 countries and “has set the standard for the broadcast of parasport ever since.”

To protect his investment and intellectual property (IP), Mr. Long turned to three distinct methods: copyright, EU Community Design rights, and trademark protection via the Madrid Protocol.

Copyright serves as the bedrock for his IP protection. In the United Kingdom, copyright protection arises upon creation, and formal registration is not required. Copyright offers broad protection for the graphical elements of LEXI and extends to shape, configuration, color combination, and moving images.

“Making using of three distinct ways to protect LEXI was not driven so much by cost saving, but rather by building different IP rights to wrap around Giles’ creation to achieve the strongest and broadest scope of protection,” said Georgie Collins, Mr. Long’s trademark counsel and a partner at the London office of Irwin Mitchell LLP.

“The requirements for enforcement in the event of an infringement vary,” she continued, “and there could be an instance where requirements for trademark infringement are not satisfied but infringement for copyright or design right could be successful.”

Mr. Long also filed two EU Community Design applications with each application, covering up to 21 different designs. According to Ms. Collins, “this was a cost-effective way” to protect the LEXI characters. Each application has many color variations of the humanoid figure. Mr. Long also filed for similar design protection in Japan.

In addition, he applied for trademark protection for the humanoid figure through the Madrid Protocol, selecting key jurisdictions including Australia, Canada, Japan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States (International Registration No. 1153889).

In rolling out the LEXI system, Mr. Long said, “We had to innovate and create our own market space.”

In doing so, he created a licensing system for LEXI, which is used by numerous broadcasting organizations in various countries. Under licensing arrangements reached with Lexicon Decoder Ltd, broadcasters receive access to a wide range of LEXI images that they can use in and on three-dimensional videos, on-screen overlay graphics, full-frame graphics, augmented reality, websites, and social media platforms.

In the view of Rachael Latham, a Paralympian and broadcaster for the BBC, channel 4, the LEXI system “has transformed the world of Paralympic sport,” according to a testimonial on the company’s website. Further, she noted that it has opened a new fan base, and “has helped people fall in love with Paralympic sport.”

From its first launch to present day, the LEXI system for competitor classifications in Paralympic sports has captured a massive following. During the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, LEXI’s official website received 1.5 million page views.

“For a website that explains Paralympic classifications, that’s a lot of traffic,” Mr. Long suggested.

Even more impressive is that during the busy sections of the games in Tokyo, the LEXI website received approximately 10,000 simultaneous users per minute.

In reflecting upon the success of LEXI, Mr. Long said, “I wanted to make it easier for people to watch Paralympic sports. So far, fingers crossed, that’s what it appears to be doing.”

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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