Panini America has filed a lawsuit against trading card competitor Leaf and its president, Brian Gray, in a bid to keep 750 leftover Upper Deck Kevin Durant autographed stickers out of the marketplace. The suit was filed in Dallas County, Texas District Court, eight months after Gray first approached the NBA card maker last July in hopes of selling them.
Durant signed an exclusive agreement for autographs with Panini three months ago and the company plans to market the newly crowned All-Star Game MVP heavily in its upcoming basketball card issues. Panini’s suit aims to prevent Leaf from “marketing, trading or selling” the sheets of stickers Durant signed for that company before it lost its NBA trading card license. How Gray came into possession of the stickers isn’t revealed in the suit. In a letter attached as an exhibit, Gray asks Panini executives for $35 per sticker and claims to have paid $30 each for them.
Leaf, which has no licensing agreement with any major professional sports league, often utilizes ‘buy back’ vintage cards and other items to help drive sales of its products. It recently settled another lawsuit filed by Topps over the use of images from vintage Topps cards in its promotional material.
An email from Panini Memorabilia Business Manager Brian Bayne to Gray indicates that Panini concluded the hologram boosted stickers were signed during Durant’s contract with Upper Deck during his first year in the league and should only have been used during that time.
“It is fairly troubling to see these holograms show up in the marketplace after we’ve invested in an exclusive agreement with Kevin,” he wrote.
“Success in the trading card industry is based, in large measure, on reputation as well as athletes that you have ‘exclusive’ agreements with,” Panini claims in the 17-page suit. “As a result of these factors, Panini takes its reputation very seriously. Additionally, it has expended significant time and money to have ‘exclusive agreements’ with a number of athletes in the NFL, NHL, and NBA.”
Panini claims tortious interference with its existing contract because it says Leaf and Gray are “willfully and intentionally interfering with the contract between Panini and Durant”. Panini is asking for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction prohibiting Leaf from using any of the Durant stickers it has obtained.
The agreement between Durant and Panini, signed December 20, is also included as an exhibit in the suit and reveals that the contract calls for Durant to sign up to 7,500 autographs on cards plus an additional 5 to 10 percent “at no cost” to Panini upon “reasonable request”.