MANHATTAN (CN) – Major League Baseball Properties demands punitive damages from Donruss Playoff, claiming the trading-card company willfully violated trademarks by selling baseball cards featuring MLB trade dress, “despite Donruss’ calculated attempts on some cards to have such marks modified or partially obscured.”
This 13-page federal filing, with 97 pages of attachments, contains interesting information about baseball cards, revenue and merchandising. Major League Baseball Properties says it is “indirectly owned” by the 30 Major League Baseball clubs, and is the clubs’ licensing agent.
It says the MLB brings in $10 billion a year, wholesale, from merchandise bearing MLB trademarks.
The value of trading cards in the four major sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) has declined from $1 billion a year at its height to about $200 million today. The plaintiff has earned more than $100 million from licensing trading cards in the past decade. The complaint does not state when the “height” of the trading card market was.
But it says that baseball cards accounted for 75-80% of the trading card market in the mid-1980s, but its share has fallen to 15-20% of the total market today – this figure includes non-sports trading cards.
As a result, the plaintiff says, the trading card business is intensely competitive. It says only two companies have licenses to market baseball cards with MLB trademark, and Donruss is not one of them.
It claims Donruss was licensed, but the license expired on Dec. 31, 2005. In October 2008, Donruss released its “Threads” series of baseball trading cards, featuring former Major Leaguers and current Minor Leaguers. This was done without a license, and featured “calculated attempts to obscure or slightly alter the MLB Marks” in the photos on the cards, according to the complaint.
Major League Baseball Properties seeks punitive damages for breach of contract, Lanham Act violations, unfair competition, common law trademark violations, and violations of New York civil rights law. It is represented by Richard Mandel.