Just as predicted, the Topps vs. Leaf lawsuit settled this year. On January 12, Topps and Leaf jointly filed a document stipulating to the dismissal of the action. The entire text of the filing is below:
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 (a)(1)(A)(ii), plaintiff/counterclaim-defendant, The Topps Company, Inc., and defendant/counterclaim-plaintiff, Leaf Trading Cards, LLC, by their undersigned counsel, stipulate that the above captioned action is voluntarily dismissed with prejudice and without costs to either party.
Legal translation: Both sides dismissed the case “with prejudice." So, it's done. No chance of Topps or Leaf re-raising these issues, or re-filing this action, unless someone breaches the settlement agreement.
So, who won?
As with most settlements, we'll likely never know. It appears that the settlement is confidential and there is no hint as to who won from the stipulation of dismissal.
While this is good for the hobby, I am disappointed. There was little chance this case would have run its course, but if it had, it could have given clarity to the issue of using a buybacks from other companies in competing product lines, as well as other questions that most in the industry think they know the answer to, but aren't 100% sure.
Who do I think won? This'll sound like I'm hedging, but I'm not. Both sides won. Why? I think Leaf won because its Best of Baseball product is still out there and the sell sheet that was the big issue of the case is still on its website (and from a quick review, the sell sheet looks to be un-modified with any disclaimers).
Also, since Leaf knows the boundaries of the settlement, it technically knows how far Topps is willing to go with its intellectual property and in future lawsuits. So, because of this lawsuit and the confidentiality of the settlement agreement, Leaf may now be the best-positioned competitor of Topps.
However, the murkiness around buybacks and whether Topps still owns valid intellectual property over its Mickey Mantle cards helps Topps because its competitors still aren't sure what they can and can't do. Just bringing the lawsuit sent a message to the industry: Topps will bring suit on its IP even if the claims look weak, so stay clear. In the big picture, Topps can claim it won too.
So, Leaf won. Topps won. And the consumers won.
And although Law of Cards loses a lawsuit to follow, I have a feeling the industry won't let me down, and we'll see more courtroom drama in the future.
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