Upper Deck Accuses Rival of 'Shakedown'

      SAN DIEGO (CN) - The Upper Deck Co. claims in court that a competitor tried to shake it down for $350,000, falsely accusing it of violating "alleged copyrights" on trading cards of U.S. politicians.
     Carlsbad-based Upper Deck sued Executive Trading LLC, of Tacoma, Wash., in Federal Court.
     "In July of 2012, defendant sent plaintiff a litigation demand letter accusing plaintiff of 'stealing' their 'ideas' for political cards, of violating certain alleged copyrights, and demanding that Upper Deck pay plaintiff $350,000," the complaint states. "It is entirely unclear how defendant came up with that number. The demand figure, as well as the demand letter itself suggests nothing more than a shakedown of plaintiff. Plaintiff started developing and distributing political cards well before defendant even existed."
     Upper Deck calls Executive Trading's demand "meritless and spiteful" and says its own "World of Politics" cards are "lawful and valid."
     Upper Deck, known primarily for its baseball cards, claims that it began selling limited-edition trading cards with political themes "years ago." It claims it has released cards featuring all 44 U.S. presidents, Sarah Palin, and even a series of "Obama dog cards" depicting the "first dog," Bo.
     Upper Deck's political cards "were used as rare, special, and limited-edition random inserts in packs of already-existing trading card lines such as baseball cards," the complaint states. "The idea was the consumers would be drawn to the rarity of the special political insert cards and the prospect of being lucky and finding one in a pack of, say, Upper Deck baseball cards, would promote sales.
     Upper Deck claims it's been producing U.S. history card since the 199s, and that political trading cards have existed since the late 1800s.
     Upper Deck's nine limited-edition "World of Politics" trading cards feature political figures from the Republican presidential primary and 2012 general election, including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who is "'depicted throwing a baseball.'"
     Upper Deck says Executive Trading's demand letter was based on defendant's "non-industry standard size" trading cards of members of all three branches of the federal government.
     "Defendant also claims that plaintiff violated a 'confidentiality agreement' entered into between plaintiff and defendant when defendant sought out plaintiff early on in its formation and pitched the idea of selling stand-alone complete sets of figures within the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of our government," the complaint states. "Defendant sought a business relationship with plaintiff to help develop whole educational sets depicting already-elected officials as a stand-alone product and on non-standard card stock. Plaintiff ultimately elected not to dive into this different area and stuck, instead, with its tested method of inserting special cards depicting popular candidates/hopefuls (as well as some already-elected officials), on standard stock, as rare promotional inserts in existing card sets. Defendant's threats and contentions are wholly without merit."
     But President of Executive Trading Justen VanGrinsven told Courthouse News that the complaint was "a preemptive move after Executive Trading's lawyers provided it [Upper Deck] with notice that Executive Trading was claiming Upper Deck stole its intellectual property and breached the nondisclosure agreement."
     "We expect that a major counterclaim will be filed against Upper Deck in California and that the case will be litigated in Washington," VanGrinsven said in an email.
     Upper Deck seeks declaratory judgment and costs.
     It is represented by Alex Tomasevic with Nicholas & Butler.