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Topps claims foul over use of images

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Bloomberg News / June 10, 2008

NEW YORK - Topps Co., the baseball-card maker taken private last year, sued competitor Upper Deck Co., accusing it of wrongfully using the names and images of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and six other baseball legends.

Upper Deck, based in Carlsbad, Calif., is planning a line of "Legendary Cuts" baseball cards featuring the late Hall of Fame players, whose name and image rights are licensed by Topps, the New York-based company said yesterday in a trademark-infringement suit in federal court in Indianapolis.

Upper Deck "continues to knowingly, intentionally, willfully and maliciously infringe upon the exclusive rights purchased by Topps," the complaint states.

Upper Deck lost its right to use the players' names, images, and statistical data after agreements reached in 2004 with celebrity-licensing agency CMG Worldwide Inc. expired, the complaint states.

An Upper Deck spokesman declined to comment, saying he wasn't aware of the lawsuit.

CMG in November held negotiations with both card makers and ultimately signed an exclusive deal with Topps in March, the New York company claims. Topps filed the complaint jointly with Indianapolis-based CMG.

Topps, which also makes Bazooka bubble gum, "would not have entered into these agreements without having the rights to the legends' intellectual property on an exclusive basis," the company said in its complaint.

Topps, founded in 1938, is seeking unspecified money damages and a court order barring Upper Deck's use of the names and images in its new line of cards. The other players are Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Thurman Munson, George Sisler, and Johnny Mize.

In October, Topps was acquired for $385 million by former Walt Disney Co. chief Michael Eisner's Tornante Co. and Madison Dearborn Partners LLC. Upper Deck had offered to buy its competitor for $416 million before scrapping that proposal.

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