National Assoc. of Prof. Baseball Leagues, Inc. v. Very Minor Leagues, Inc.

Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals 223 F.3d 1143 (10th Cir. 2000) Keywords – antitrust, trademark, torts, patent Facts The National Assoc. of Professional Baseball Leagues (Baseball Leagues) owns the trademark and logo of “Professional Baseball The Minor Leagues.” Very Minor Leagues applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for registration of the mark “Very Major Leagues.” Baseball Leagues filed a Notice of Opposition to Very Minor Leagues contending that the registering of the trademark by Very Major Leagues would create confusion, tarnish and dilute their own marks as they sell similar products. A month later, Baseball Leagues filed an application to register the trademarks of “Minor League Baseball” and “The Minor Leagues.” Those requests were denied. Ultimately, Baseball Leagues brought action against Very Minor Leagues for infringement, who then counterclaimed for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, prima facie tort and abuse of process. The jury found that Very Minor League did not infringe on Baseball League, but denied the motion for attorney’s fees. In addition, the District Court found that Baseball League’s conduct was not tortious. Very Minor League appealed. Issue Was Baseball Leagues’ conduct tortious, unlawful or unfair, and should Very Minor Leagues be awarded attorney fees? Holding The Tenth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision not to award Very Minor Leagues attorney fees because the case did not meet the “exceptional” requirement for fees to be awarded. The court found that the Baseball League’s claims were not groundless and it did not act in any manner as to justify the award. In addition, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s partial summary judgment. Nothing suggested that the conduct of Baseball Leagues was unlawful or unfair; thus, no tortious inference occurred. Also, Very Minor Leagues failed to establish a prima facie tort by not presenting evidence that Baseball Leagues acted in an unlawful or unfair manner by bring suit because it was not groundless. Lastly, Very Minor Leagues failed to establish an abuse of process by Baseball Leagues because it failed to introduce evidence of any ulterior purpose other than the need for extra time for response to the Notice set forth by Very Minor Leagues. Summarized by: Gary Rom

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