Major League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs are teaming up to take on vendors selling alleged unlicensed, knock-off Cubs merchandise online and near Wrigley Field.
The team and league filed the complaint Sept. 22 in federal court in Chicago, naming as defendants Toussiant Stevens, Steve Russell, Richard Jekel, Edward Jefferson, Ron Howard and Pete Gadberry, as well as Harry Gibson, who is doing business as Offcenter Marketing, and 30 additional anonymous defendants. The complaint also cites an online store named Chi Apparel, but notes “the identity and location of the site’s operator is not publicly available.”
The complaint paints the accused as “deliberately free riding on the success of the Cubs and trading — without a license or permission — on the substantial goodwill associated with the Cubs’ trademarks and trade dress” and “reaping unlawful profits from these unsavory efforts, but also over the past weeks and months, they have flooded Wrigleyville and the Internet with all manner of unlicensed products that brazenly use the Cubs’ trademarks and trade dress to dupe unwitting fans and the public into purchasing defendants’ knock-off products.”
The Cubs and MLB further assert at least one defendant has already received a criminal counterfeiting citation from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and that the team’s historically successful regular season has increased efforts to illegally capitalize on registered trademarks. They also predict the problem is likely to intensify as the team begins a postseason run in October.
Using several visual elements, the complaint details how the Cubs and MLB have exclusive control of not just logos but distinguishing word and design marks, such as the way the word Chicago is written on the team’s road jersey or the iconic “W” flag hoisted at the stadium after victories. It further cites other well-known things affiliated with the team, such as likenesses and jersey numbers of famous players and distinctive elements of its century-old ballpark.
The complaint also includes photographs — taken Sept. 16 outside Wrigley Field — of the accused and some of the merchandise in question. One such shirt features a picture of Marilyn Monroe wearing what could be construed as a Cubs jersey, while others include floppy heats bearing a common Cubs logo. All the merchandise pictured, the complaint states, “feature a combination of the Cubs’ blue-and-red color scheme with identical, substantially indistinguishable, and/or confusingly similar imitations of the MLB Marks and/or Cubs Indicia.”
Formal allegations include counterfeiting, state, federal and common law trademark infringement and dilution, federal unfair competition violations and state unfair and deceptive trade practices violations. In addition to a jury trial, the team and league seek a temporary restraining order, preliminary and permanent injunctions as well as damages, including the defendants’ profits and the Cubs’ attorney fees and court costs.
Further, they ask the court to empower the Cubs and MLB to work with law enforcement agencies to seize infringing merchandise as well as “any cartons, vessels, boxes, or other containers in which such goods are stored, carried, displayed, or transported, or any devices used to produce or reproduce such goods, including, without limitation, silk screens, molds, matrices, heat transfers, or printers, in the possession, custody, or control of any of the defendants.”
The Cubs and MLB are represented in the matter by attorneys from the firms of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila, of Chicago, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, of Atlanta.