Supreme Court Reaffirms Conspiracy Risks Of Joint Ventures


On May 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court held, in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, et al., that the NFL, its teams, and intra-league ventures, are not a single enterprise for the purposes of Section 1 of the Sherman Act,1 and therefore the NFL's collective licensing of its teams' individually owned intellectual property could constitute concerted action – "a contract, combination . . ., or conspiracy." This bulletin summarizes the Court's analysis and a few of the decision's key implications.


This case arose from a 2000 agreement between NFL Properties ("NFLP") and Reebok, which made Reebok the exclusive licensee of all 32 NFL teams' intellectual property for the sale of hats. NFLP was formed in 1963 to "develop, license, and market" the intellectual property – including colors, names and logos – of the NFL teams. Prior to 2000, NFLP granted nonexclusive licenses for the manufacture and sale of NFL team merchandise to many companies, including American Needle.

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