Monday, January 26, 2009

Baseball Uniforms as Trade Dress: MLB v. Donruss

An interesting case was recently filed involving baseball card manufacturer Don Ross and Major League baseball. Among several counts involving, minor league players, retired players and current players is a claim that that Donruss inappropriately used the trade dress of the former Major League players. Interestingly, the complaint seems to indicate that there isn't a claim of trademark infringement related to the cards with the former players. While it is not spelled out in the complaint, it appears that the claim is that even though the logos have been removed from the pictures of these players (thereby avoiding the trademark claim) that because the colors and other parts of the uniform are visible, the trade dress has been infringed.

It is standard practice to remove the logos on licensed memorabilia of sports figure, but if this case plays out in favor of MLB, it would appear players will have to be completely stripped of any identifying indicia to avoid the claims by MLB. Trade dress must be distinctive and non-functional ~ while I will admit to not being a major sports fan, but it seems to me that proving these elements is going to be a difficult task for MLB. If in fact MLB is claiming a trade dress in the uniforms and is successful, it raises all sorts of issues for merchandisers, former players, and sporting good manufacturers.

The complaint has been loaded online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/11055023/Complaint-MLB-Don-Russ-Baseball

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