Law of Cards: What the Panini-Leaf Settlement Means for the Hobby

Law of Cards: What the Panini-Leaf Settlement Means for the Hobby

In 2013, Leaf and Panini loved suing each other. It began with Leaf suing Panini for trademark infringement. Leaf alleged that Panini's PRIZM brand infringed its PRISMATIC trademark. This lawsuit quickly dissipated, but, undaunted, Leaf quickly followed it up with two trademark oppositions against Panini's PRIZM and LIMITED marks (legal translation: Leaf wanted to make sure Panini could not obtain trademark registrations for PRIZM and LIMITED).

At this point, Panini must have been sick of always being a defendant; it decided that Leaf needed skin in the game. So, Panini sued Leaf for copyright infringement alleging that Leaf's Valiant product line infringed the Crusade copyright registration(s) that Panini inherited from Donruss.

Leaf responded with another stab at Panini's LIMITED trademark by filing a trademark application for LEAF LIMITED, which Panini was on the verge of opposing.

Then, out of nowhere, they kissed and made up.

Within a matter of one week in early September, the Valiant/Crusade copyright lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice (legal translation: it's gone and never coming back), Leaf then dropped its trademark oppositions against PRIZM and LIMITED and then Leaf expressly abandoned its LEAF LIMITED trademark at the Trademark Office.

And with that, there was peace across the land, at least between Leaf and Panini.

The dismissals of the Valiant/Crusade lawsuit and trademark oppositions all indicate that there was a settlement agreement, but as with most settlement agreements, its terms appear to be confidential. Therefore, we don't the terms of settlement.

While we don't know who won or lost, we can surmise what the end of this litigation saga means for collectors and the hobby:

1)    Both parties will stop spending money on lawyers. Hopefully, that money will be used for creating cards (Not likely to happen. Once money is allotted to "legal," it rarely, if ever, makes it back to the "general fund").

2)    The only potential party who could have won money from the pending legal battles was Panini in the Valiant/Crusade suit. The fact that the lawsuit is over means there is no chance that Leaf will have to cough up its profits from its Valiant products to Panini.

3)    There likely will be no more Leaf Limited products.

4)    There likely will be no more Leaf Valiant products.

5)    There will be more Panini Crusade products.

6)    There will be more Panini Limited products.

7)    It's still not a foregone conclusion that Panini will obtain a LIMITED trademark registration, because although Leaf is no longer opposing it, Topps still is (legal suggestion: Hey Topps and Panini, please start filing papers and bickering like children in this action. We have a void in the hobby now, and it's your duty to fill it!).

8)    Surprisingly, it was recently announced that Leaf made a deal with Panini to include Damian Lillard autographs in Panini products. For those who don't know, Lillard, the sixth overall pick from last year's NBA draft, signed an exclusive, multi-year autograph deal with Leaf. Some collectors were concerned about this exclusive arrangement because Leaf does not have an NBA license, and therefore, there would not be any true "rookie" cards of Lillard in his uniform. The timing of Panini's inclusion of Lillard autographs in their final four 2012-13 basketball products suggests that they might have been part of the settlement. What this means for collectors is that they can get Lillard signed cards in uniform. As to whether Panini paid for the rights to do this, or if Leaf included them as part of the settlement (in lieu of paying copyright damages), is unknown.

As you can see, it's difficult to determine who won, but it is an interesting resolution with a lot of moving parts. There likely are others behind the scenes. So, if some bizarre joint ventures between Panini and Leaf pop up in the near future, they may be a result of the lawsuit.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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