American Needle v. National Football LeagueJanuary 2010
On January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, a case presenting questions of antitrust and intellectual property (IP) law that potentially could change the manner in which professional sports leagues conduct business. As the author of a leading sports law textbook told ESPN.com, the Court's decision in American Needle "could easily turn out to be the most significant sports law decision ever."
- American Needle, a former licensee of the NFL, sought Supreme Court review after it unsuccessfully challenged the NFL's grant of an exclusive apparel license to Reebok.
- The Supreme Court will consider the question of whether NFL teams should be deemed to be a "single entity" for purposes of analyzing whether certain collective undertakings could violate antitrust law.
- A decision in the NFL's favor could exempt the league — and potentially similarly situated professional sports leagues — from the review of certain business activities under antitrust law.
- A decision in American Needle's favor could require collective activities to be subject to a case-by-case review as to whether pro-competitive effects outweigh potential anti-competitive harm.
This alert provides background on the case, an explanation of the NFL's "Single Entity" defense and the potential impact of the Supreme Court's decision.
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