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04

The Copperweld Doctrine Shields the NFL from Antitrust Liaibility for Its Exclusive Licensing Arrangements

Posted by : Matthew Wild | On : September 4, 2008

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit applied the Copperweld doctrine to a sports league for the first time. In so doing, it recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of the NFL, its teams and Reebok in an antitrust challenge to an exclusive license of team names and logos to Reebok for use on headwear. American Needle Inc. v. Nat’l Football League, No. 07-4006, 2008 WL 3822782 (7th Cir. Aug. 18, 2008) (attachedĀ  American Needle v. NFL). The plaintiff — an unsuccessful bidder — alleged that the collective action by the teams to combine all of their intellectual property rights and create an exclusive license was a conspiracy to prevent other vendors from obtaining licenses to the team names and logos in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. The plaintiff also alleged that the teams monopolized “the NFL team licensing and product wholesale markets” in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. Id. at *2. The Seventh Circuit held that the teams should be treated as a single entity under the Copperweld doctrine. As explained in Wild, et al., “Private Equity Groups Under Common Legal Control Constitute a Single Enterprise Under the Antitrust Laws,” 3 NYU Journal of Law and Business 231, 237 and n.31 (attached under articles above), that doctrine treats two or more firms that are under common ownership or have a unity of interest in a common course of action as a single firm incapable of conspiring or otherwise acting collectively under the antitrust laws. The Seventh Circuit did so because “the teams share a vital economic interest in collectively promoting all of NFL football” (id. at *7) and should be able to cooperate so that the NFL “can compete against other entertainment providers.” Id. at *8.

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