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Panini America sues The Art of the Game alleging trademark infringement, autograph counterfeiting

Update: The case was settled out of court in August. Terms were not disclosed.

By Chris Olds | Basketball Editor

Panini America sued a Los Angeles-based company on Monday in a U.S. District Court alleging that its sales of unauthenticated and counterfeited Kobe Bryant autographed merchandise are in violation of its exclusive contract with the NBA superstar.

In its 66-page filing obtained by Beckett Media, Panini claims that The Art of the Game has sold items online and in kiosks at the Staples Center — the home of the Lakers — that are “in violation of [Bryant's] rights of publicity and are accompanied by certificates that fail to properly warrant the authenticity of signatures” under California law.

As part of its four-year deal with Bryant signed in 2009, Panini has exclusive rights to use his “name, nicknames, voice, likeness, photograph, picture, biography, statistics, image, caricature, game-used equipment and signature … in connection with the manufacture, packaging, advertisement, promotion, distribution, sale and general endorsement” of stickers, trading cards and sports memorabilia.

As part of that exclusive, Bryant will not offer his services to any other company and, according to the legal filing, “Kobe has not provided any such services to Art of the Game.”

In its filing, Panini alleges that consumers would believe that the autographed items sold by Art of the Game were authenticated by the Irving, Texas-based company.

The lawsuit originates with an April 3, 2011, purchase of a photograph signed by Bryant and Blake Griffin (who has subsequently become a Panini-exclusive spokesman along with Bryant on April 12) made by Panini Memorabilia Business Manager Brian Bayne. Bayne purchased the photo at Art of the Game’s kiosk in the Staples Center, where, according to the filing, he was told by AOTG salesman Jason Rosen that the company has an exclusive license agreement with Bryant, that Bryant has signed memorabilia for the company and that the particular item was signed for AOTG and not purchased on the secondary market.

On April 12, a private investigator hired by Panini purchased a Bryant-signed Black Mamba movie poster. At that time, the court filing says, salesperson Carlos Lecanda told the investigator that the signature is authentic, that AOTG obtains its signatures directly from Bryant, that it would not purchase items signed via other companies and that it has an exclusive deal with Bryant. In addition, the private investigator was told by Lecanda that employees have items signed by Bryant at the Staples Center and that he had witnessed the signing of the particular Black Mamba poster. In addition, the private investigator was told that AOTG would be offering additional signed items from Bryant before the playoffs, the document said.

Under California law, a dealer must provide a detailed certificate of authenticity with specific details when selling signed items. Panini’s filing alleges that the items in question were misrepresented as being authenticated by a company called Online Authentics. That company, according to the filing, does not authenticate memorabilia but “simply provides an online registry” for an item.  In addition, the private investigator was told by Lecanda that the companies were not related. However, Panini alleges in its filing that Online Authentics was co-founded by Harlan J. Werner, who owns Art of the Game.

Panini alleges that the autographed items were not signed by Bryant and that AOTG “deliberately and willfully represents this sports memorabilia as an authentic collectible autographed by Kobe in his own hand knowing that the autograph is a counterfeit, and without a reasonable basis in fact for believing that the items sold are authentic.” In turn, Panini claims that AOTG is “thus knowingly, intentionally, willfully and maliciously infringing upon the exclusive rights to Kobe’s [rights] licensed to Panini.”

Panini, which is seeking a jury trial, claims the value of its deal with Bryant has been diluted “to the detrimental and general damage of Panini” among other damages and is seeking damages “in an amount that is not yet fully ascertainable but which is in excess of the jurisdictional limit” of the court. Panini is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing AOTG from selling or marketing Bryant items, is seeking all profits from sales of Bryant-signed items, damages, attorney’s fees, punitive damages and additional claims.

Art of the Game’s lawyer, Keith Fink, commented on the case to TMZ.

“The gallery we have in Staples has been selling art signed by Kobe with Kobe’s image for a decade,” he said. “Virtually every night Kobe’s agent or marketing team passed by the gallery and never once has someone had an issue with the art.”

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Basketball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

12 Comments

Tom Waldron

This issue raises a good point how far does an exclusive individual liscencing go.
Can Kobe sign my kids card at an arena or go to a show Like the National and sign without being sued.?
Is Panini trying to push it’s agrremant beyond the ‘Sprit of Intention’.
Consider this….. is this the twilight zone or what??? Just saying….

Posted May 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
AOTG

We love you, Art of the Game!

Posted May 11, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

who cares, panini still hasnt given me my kobe auto from 09/10 court kings, all i get are excuses like everyone else, maybe we should sue them as well or get our autos from the company at the staples center

Posted May 12, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink
Peter

I am not so sure if this is the right move that Panini America should be taking. But, I just wanna say good luck to them. AOTG, good luck too…

Keep us up-to-date Chris. Thanks!

Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink
kevin

ya know what screw panini i have not received one redemption from them ever and all are from over a year ago. there cards are always ugly and full of redemptions i wish they would just go away. every product they put out rips off us the collector. please keep us updated chris good luck aotg

Posted May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
Dayton

I live in Los Angeles and frequent Staples, having passed by that particular kiosk several times to admire the beautiful art. It IS authentic, having personally viewed the autographs. It seems Panini is asserting bc the authentication certificates dont contain some very specific language, as required by California law, that the autographs are automatically forgeries. Thats the kind of presumptuous argument that overzealous lawyers like to attempt in an effort to spin job this case into their favor, by dropping key buzzwords like “forgery” and “counterfeit.” A good example of this overzealousness is the statement by Panini that the Defendant sold these items “without a reasonable basis in fact for believing that the items sold are authentic.” In fact, the reasonable basis would be Lecanda’s statements that “employees have items signed by Bryant at the Staples Center and that he had witnessed the signing of the particular Black Mamba poster.”

Posted May 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
Jenn T

If AOTG has been doing business with Kobe for over a decade, wouldn’t they be in favor to sue Panini or Kobe for enabling or breach of contract?

I’m not a fan of Panini either. I’m still waiting on my call back from February 24th…

Posted May 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

Wow… where to begin…

First, it is quite interesting to note the relationship between Online Authentics and AOTG. Not a good thing, to be sure. In a way though, its a little like the relationship between Beckett Price Guide and Beckett Grading, no? (From mod: No.)

Also, I have personally bought a few items from AOTG over the years, as I live in L.A. and frequent Staples, and Dodger Stadium, where they used to have a gallery as well. I never had an issue with authentication, but as I looked at the two items I bought, sure enough, they were “authenticated” by Online Authentics. Great. Then again, here’s hoping that no one would forge an Eric Gagne Cy Young Award Winner autographed photo… Hope that’s the case.

I bought one of my pieces from Jason, who was mentioned in the article. He always seemed to be a nice guy, very personable, and never steered me towards a particular sale. I’m definitely hoping everything is on the up and up with AOTG.

Chris, please keep us updated on this story.

Posted May 13, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink
Trey

Maybe I’m missing something but when did Panini America start offering signed Kobe Bryant signed memorabilia (or Blake Griffin for the matter)? In checking the Beckett Marketplace and eBay, I couldn’t find a single signed piece of memorabilia authenticated by Panini for either player (outside of trading cards of course).

That said, I’m curious if Panini America’s exclusive NBA Trading Card deal has been profitable for them or if they overpaid for the exclusive rights. IMO, the products that they’ve put out the past couple years have been average at best and not having access to Lebron and Jordan relics and autos obviously hasn’t helped them.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this lawsuit was just an attempt to recoup some of the money they most likely over-paid the NBA in trading card fees. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Panini was just looking for a way to dump Kobe as a spokesman because the Lakers got eliminated in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

From mod:www.paniniauthentic.com

Posted May 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
Gilbert fletcher

Have Kobe and Blake autograph pic from online authentic ….not looking good for me

Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink
Gilbert fletcher

Just paid $299.00 for dirk nowitzki pic from the ( art of the game ) at staples…but cant find it on line…(online authentic registration…some one help me

Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks

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  2. By Weird Story: Kobe Bryant Forgeries? on May 11, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    [...] Story: Kobe Bryant Forgeries? Panini America sues The Art of the Game alleging trademark infringement, autograph counterfeiting | Bizarre stuff….I guess buying from the stadium doesn't always mean the autograph is real….. [...]

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