U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari in NFL licensing case

On 29 June 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case involving the licensing of NFL team logos and trademarks for team products such as headwear (American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, et al., Docket 08-661). The teams had granted the exclusive right to license their logos and trademarks to an entity that subsequently granted an exclusive license to a headwear manufacturer.

At issue before the Supreme Court is, first, whether the NFL and its member teams acted as a single entity in such licensing of the NFL team logos and trademarks. If no collective action among separate entities is present, no violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act can occur. Earlier in the case, a district court found that in the exploitation of their intellectual property rights the teams acted as a single entity rather than in cooperation, and thus granted motion to dismiss. The 7th Circuit affirmed, stating that it was unnecessary to consider whether the member teams could have competing interests in the exploitation of their intellectual property rights and thus could compete in the licensing and marketing of their intellectual property.

At issue before the Supreme Court is, second, whether the exclusive arrangements among the NFL teams and with the headwear manufacturer are subject to rule of reason analysis in view of the obligations not to compete in the licensing or sales of the team products. [Juha Vesala]

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