rare foray into competition law by the IPKat thanks to Findlaw. American Needle held a non-exclusive licence from the American National Football League (NFL), allowing it to produce clothing bearing the trade marked emblems of NFL teams. NFL stopped granting multiple licences in its trade marks and instead granted an exclusive licence to Reebok. American Needle sued NFL, claiming that its activities constituted restraint of trade and monopolisation, both of which are illegal under the US Sherman Antitrust Act. NFL took issue with American Needle’s definitions of the relevant market, arguing that a company’s trade marks cannot, on their own, constitute a market for antitrust purposes. Though, according to the judge, that’s usually true, here the team logos could be seen as the product themselves because consumers looking for NFL clothing wanted to show their allegiance to their teams and other clothing would not be suitable for this purpose.
The IPKat suspects that this is an exceptional case since the NFL seems to control all the football team marks and hence all possible substitutes as far as the football team insignia is concerned. He wonders if a single team’s trade mark would constitute a market of itself since consumers are very loyal to their teams and would not wear another team’s logo. For example, a Manchester United fan isn’t going to go out and buy and Arsenal shirt even if the Arsenal shirt is considerably cheaper than the Manchester United shirt. The two just aren’t substitutable.
Be a good sport here and here