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NFL case to be discussed at Indy Law

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A roundtable discussion about a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the issue of antitrust laws as applied to the National Football League will be at the Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis in November.

The question at hand in the case American Needle Inc. v. National Football League, et al., No. 08-661, is whether professional sports leagues should be regarded as single firms or a collection of competitors. The discussion will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Wynne Courtroom at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis. The free event will count for one hour of CLE credit, pending approval.

The plaintiff is an Illinois-based licensee of intellectual property that manufactures and sells hats with team logos. After the NFL granted an exclusive license to Reebok following a competitive bid, the league effectively terminated American Needle's license. The company then sued the NFL, its member football teams, NFL Properties LLC, and Reebok International Ltd. In its claim, American Needle said the NFL was in violation of Section One of the Sherman Act, arguing there was a conspiracy among the teams to restrain trade.

Last August, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division's grant of summary judgment to the defendants. In its opinion, the 7th Circuit found the NFL was a single entity. "Simply put, nothing in Section 1 prohibits the NFL teams from cooperating so the league can compete against other entertainment providers. Indeed, antitrust law encourages cooperation inside a business organization - such as, in this case, a professional sports league - to foster competition between that organization and its competitors. ... Viewed in this light, the NFL teams are best described as a single source of economic power when promoting NFL football through licensing the teams' intellectual property, and we thus cannot say that the district court was wrong to so conclude," wrote Judge Michael S. Kanne.

I.U. Law - Indianapolis Dean Gary Roberts will take the position that the 7th Circuit was correct to treat the NFL as a single entity; professor Max Huffman will take the position that the 7th Circuit erred. Professor Antony Page will moderate. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in December 2009 or January 2010; an opinion can be expected no later than June.

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