American Needle, Inc. v. NFL

AMERICAN NEEDLE, INC. V. NATIONALFOOTBALL LEAGUE


SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

AMERICAN NEEDLE, INC. v. NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 08–661. Argued January 13, 2010—Decided May 24, 2010

Respondent National Football League (NFL) is an unincorporated association of 32 separately owned professional football teams, also respondents here. The teams, each of which owns its own name, colors, logo, trademarks, and related intellectual property, formed respondent National Football League Properties (NFLP) to develop, license, and market that property. At first, NFLP granted nonexclusive licenses to petitioner and other vendors to manufacture and sell team-labeled apparel. In December 2000, however, the teams authorized NFLP to grant exclusive licenses. NFLP granted an exclusive license to respondent Reebok International Ltd. to produce and sell trademarked headwear for all 32 teams. When petitioner’s license was not renewed, it filed this action alleging that the agreements between respondents violated the Sherman Act, §1 of which makes “[e]very contract, combination … or, conspiracy, in restraint of trade” illegal. Respondents answered that they were incapable of conspiring within §1’s meaning because the NFL and its teams are, in antitrust law jargon, a single entity with respect to the conduct challenged. The District Court granted respondents summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

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