By Kevin Haake
On Monday, Topps and CMG Worldwide Inc., filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in Indianapolis court against chief rival Upper Deck. The five-page suit cites that the California-based company wrongfully used images and player names of 16 baseball legends – including Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Thurman Munson, George Sisler and Johnny Mize – who were exclusively licensed by Topps in an April 2008 agreement.
Under the guidelines of Topps' deal with CMG Worldwide, the company was granted "The exclusive right and license . . . to use the property in connection with the cards [trading cards] as outlined below: Property's name, likeness and/or statistical data on and in connection with the manufacture, production, marketing, distribution and sale of all trading card products including but not limited to base cards, relic cards featuring authentic cut signatures and/or pieces of game-used equipment such as bats, caps, etc., event/milestone cards, advertising and/or promotional cards, game cards, digital/electronic cards and stickers."
The suit states Upper Deck lost the right to use the respective players' information after its original 2005 contract with CMG expired and Topps and CMG came to a new exclusive deal. In the complaint, Topps stated it "would not have entered into these agreements without having the rights to the legends' intellectual property on an exclusive basis."
Upper Deck's Chris Carlin released the following statement earlier today: "Upper Deck has not been served by either CMG or Topps with a summons or complaint, nor has it had an opportunity to fully review the allegations contained therein. Nonetheless, based upon the information available to it, Upper Deck believes that the lawsuit is factually and legally inaccurate. Upper Deck will vigorously defend itself, and pursue all remedies available to it pursuant to the law, in this matter."
The Topps/CMG suit seeks unspecified monetary damages while requesting a court ordered temporary restraining order barring Upper Deck and its distributors from releasing 2008 SP Legendary Cuts a product that was scheduled to go live today.
"When the news broke this spring that CMG had reached an agreement with Topps, we wondered aloud what it would mean for Upper Deck's legends-themed products," says Beckett Media Senior Market Analyst Brian Fleischer. "Specifically, we were curious as to what it would mean for SP Legendary Cuts, arguably Upper Deck's most popular brand. If the product is indeed pulled from store shelves it would leave a serious vacancy in the hobby. Traditionally, SP Legendary Cuts is one of the most anticipated releases of the year."
Historically, the vast majority of cut signature cards released into the marketplace each year hail from Upper Deck's SP Legendary Cuts.
"Obviously, if the product is recalled, cut signature collectors are going to have a much harder time adding to their collections," Fleischer adds. "As of right now, we know that there are 2008 SP Legendary Cuts singles currently available on the market. If the product is recalled by court order, it will, without a doubt, affect the value of those cards that have already made their way to market."