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

Minor Leagues, Inc.
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
223 F.3d 1143 (10th Cir. 2000)

Keywords – antitrust, trademark, torts, patent

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.

Was Baseball Leagues’ conduct tortious, unlawful or unfair, and should Very
Minor Leagues be awarded attorney fees?

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