Chicago Cubs: With Success Comes Trademark Lawsuit Against Street Vendors

from the cubby-blues dept

As a lifelong Cubs fan with a resume that includes going to my first game at Wrigley when I was four months old and living in Wrigleyville for several years, I can at the very least claim some expertise on the culture around the team and the stadium. For those that have not been lucky enough to visit baseball’s Mecca, the walk about up to the park consists of bar-laden streets on either Addison or Clark, with the sidewalks spilling over with fans, bar-patrons, and street vendors. Those street vendors offer innumerable wares, including t-shirts, memorabillia, and food. It’s part of the experience.

An experience suddenly under fire by the team and Major League Baseball, which have jointly filed a federal lawsuit against some forty street vendors for trademark and counterfeit violations.

The Cubs and Major League Baseball filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against a vendors hawking allegedly counterfeit and trademark-infringing merchandise.

“Defendants are a group of vendors who are 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,” the team and the league claimed in the lawsuit, alleging the vendors “flooded Wrigleyville and the Internet with all manner of unlicensed products.”

They’re not wrong, of course. These vendors are everywhere. As I said, it’s part of the experience. And it got to be that way because it’s gone on forever. That the team is suddenly taking this action on the eve of a playoff run is within its rights, certainly, but doesn’t otherwise make a great deal of sense. Were this the problem the filing appears to claim it is, it should have been a problem during last year’s playoff run, or in 2007 and 2008 when the team also made postseason appearances.

While much is made in the Tribune post about how the internet has exacerbated this problem, the vendors targeted here sell solely on the street around the ballpark. Something they have surely done for years now. The team must surely have considered the question of whether forty street vendors posed a true threat to its trademark rights and the insane merchandise revenue it collects from its own sales, and whether or not that threat was of greater importance than an ambiance and culture that has always been central to the team’s commercial success.

The Cubs clearly think the threat is real, but it’s tough to see how that makes sense. Other avenues besides a federal lawsuit could have been pursued in order to protect the team’s trademark rights, but the Cubs didn’t go that route. Instead, street vendors will be brought into court, even as the team makes its run. The friendly confines feel a little less friendly all of a sudden.

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Comments on “Chicago Cubs: With Success Comes Trademark Lawsuit Against Street Vendors”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Wait, someone is making money with something related to us and we aren’t getting all of it?! BURN THEM!

If people selling knock-offs are damaging your income, maybe its because people are just seeing a better deal. A better deal you can’t make go away. You can sue a bunch of them, drag them to court, waste more money than their absence would likely earn you on court cases, but they’ll keep coming up. Not because of supply (how easy and cheap it is to make) but because of demand (people who can’t afford your ridiculously marked up memorabilia, but still want a souvenir to remember an enjoyable day).

Anonymous Coward says:

I have trouble seeing the problem here

Let me see if I have this right. Vendors are selling counterfeit Cubs merchandise and violating trademark and copyright law? And you are sympathetic towards them? Yes, they could have been shut down long before now and maybe that will be enough of a defense for them in court. But I am certain if you had a product you would not tolerate counterfeits.

I am normally in agreement with many of the IP articles here, but you are way off the mark (pardon the pun) on this one.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: I have trouble seeing the problem here

This seems like another case in which filing a lawsuit was probably unnecessary and overall a bad idea.

This is 40 or so street vendors that sell just outside your stadium. First, if you were to get an injunction, the experience of not being able to buy a Cubs t-short at these vendor stands would suck for your fans (and they really should be considered here).

If this is really just about licensing, putting together a simple and reasonable licensing package for each of the vendors and presenting it to them reasonably might have been a much better first step. That seems to have been skipped (based on the three articles I have read). They could probably make a bit of money, keep their marks protected, and possibly get a bit more information about the market they are apparently trying to serve.

Drawoc Suomynona (profile) says:

Re: I have trouble seeing the problem here

I agree. And before we complain about the big guy vs little guy thing, let’s keep in mind that there are vendors selling real Cubs merchandise that are being put at a disadvantage because of the fake stuff being sold more cheaply. I would agree that the Cubs choice of timing is pretty lame, but to argue that the Cubs shouldn’t cut out the counterfeit vendors essentially because “it’s part of the experience” is just silly.

Pixelation says:


“Were this the problem the filing appears to claim it is, it should have been a problem during last year’s playoff run, or in 2007 and 2008 when the team also made postseason appearances. “

Their reasoning is in the article…

” It’s unclear how much a postseason run drives merchandise sales, but the Cubs have marketable players, with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta ranking second, fourth and seventh on MLB’s list of top-selling player jerseys through the first seven months of this year, according to

“Now there’s more money to be made by the Cubs and lost by the Cubs to counterfeiters, and more counterfeiters will be motivated by the increased interest, so they decided it’s a good time to take that step,” Masters said.”

This is a great window into how Trademark law has become almost solely beneficial to the Mega-Corps. Too bad the Cubs couldn’t use a different option than the nuclear one.

Still a Cubs fan.

Anonmylous says:

Bullying Tactics

Federal court filing is to intimidate most of them into just quitting rather than fighting. Economically the best move for the Cubs.

However yes, the few who do decide to fight it (if any) stand a chance of punching the Cubs in the mouth, metaphorically speaking, with the claims they have been doing this forever on the steps of the stadium and its only now that the Cubs have decided to try and stop them, possibly resulting in the loss of the Cubs trademark for failing to police it properly.

If it gets to court, it could be really interesting… 5 or 6 years down the road, long past the point of the Cubs becoming a garbage team again. 😀

Andrei Mincov - Trademark Factory® (profile) says:

Protecting one's property is not evil

While I completely disagree with the entitlement spirit of the article (I have been a fan of X all of my life and I’m so used to being able to get X bypassing the much more expensive official channels, I am entitled to this, and whoever is taking is taking steps to limit my ability to enjoy X in this fashion, is evil), I agree that Cubs may have a problem with having allowed the street vendors to openly infringe on Cubs’ trademark rights for so long. This is called ‘estoppel.’ Cubs may be found to be estopped from going after those vendors who through Cubs’ former policies may have reasonably come to believe that Cubs are OK with vendors’ selling counterfeit swag. Cubs are facing a lose-lose situation. If they do nothing, the value of their brand goes down because it becomes less and less enforceable every day. If they go after the vendors now, there will not only be a backlash from people like the author of the article, there will also be a risk that a few vendors would actually lawyer up and take this case all the way to the courtroom and prove that Cubs should not be allowed to suddenly turn around and change their mind about what’s OK and what’s not OK. My prediction: Cubs will use their resources to settle with those stubborn vendors and avoid an open trial at all costs.

Andrei Mincov
Founder and CEO of Trademark Factory®,
the only firm in the world where licensed lawyers and trademark agents help entrepreneurs and businesses from around the world trademark their brands with a free comprehensive trademark search, for a single all-inclusive flat fee, with a 100% money-back guarantee.

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