In court papers filed this week, Panini claims a Los Angeles company called Art of The Game is violating its deal to be the exclusive distributor of signed Kobe Bryant items by selling non-licensed and non-genuine autographed memorabilia.
The 66-page suit (linked below) makes several claims, including trademark infringement, false advertising and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.
Bryant signed an exclusive, four-year agreement in 2009 to be the face of Panini basketball cards and the company paid what the suit calls "substantial" royalties. Sports Collectors Daily's coverage of Bryant's relationship with Panini is plaintiff's Exhibit A and C in the lawsuit.
Panini claims that Art of The Game's use of Bryant's likeness in its online and retail ventures is a violation of its contract with the Lakers' star. Further, they claim that a photograph of Bryant and fellow Panini pitchman Blake Griffin was not signed by Bryant.
Art of The Game maintains kiosks at several southern California-based venues including Staples Center, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium.
The company's attorney, Keith Fink, told TMZ.com, "The gallery we have in Staples has been selling art signed by Kobe with Kobe's image for a decade. Virtually every night Kobe's agent or marketing team passed by the gallery and never once has someone had an issue with the art."
Panini is seeking unspecified damages and asking the court to order Art of The Game to stop selling the goods in question.