A trademark and copyright case where the court makes clear that ideas alone are not protectable. Cases of Interest >  IP >  Trademark Cases of Interest >  IP >  Copyright

Hoopla Sports and Entertainment Inc v Nike Inc

Name: Hoopla Sports and Entertainment, Inc. v. Nike, Inc.
947 F.Supp. 347

Lexis: 947 F.Supp. 347

Facts: Hoopla Sports and Entertainment, Inc. came up with the idea for an international basketball contest performed by United States high-school students versus a collection of talented players overseas. The event was called the 1994 Father Liberty Game. The event was to carry the theme of peace and was developed around the awareness of the Bosnian War, to that end the name of the American team was Team Liberty USA and the international team was Nations United for Peace. In creating this event John Walsh, representing Hoopla Sports and Entertainment, Inc., solicited various sponsors including Nike, Inc. (the defendant). Nike did in fact sponsor the event and it was carried out. Hoopla had the intent to make this an annual event and alleges Nike’s commitment to be a part of it for the following year. The following year, Nike sponsored its own American High-School versus the world event. Hoopla alleges that they made false statements with regards to the originality of the event. Further, that they used a similar theme, even the fact that it was rotated around Bosnia.

Procedure: Hoopla brought suit against Nike for trademark infringement, breach of contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and fraud. Nike motioned to dismiss based on the sufficiency of the complaint.

Issue: Whether the facts alleged in the complaint as well as any inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff were sufficient to state a claim for trademark infringement, copyright infringement, breach of contract, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and fraud.

Holding: Court granted motion to dismiss, with instructions to the plaintiff on filing an amended complaint if they so wished.
Applicable Law: Hoopla makes two claims against Nike, one under Trademark law and the other Copyright law.
Trademark Law: Hoopla alleges that Nike was guilty of violating Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. Which in part states that:
1) Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, ... uses in commerce ... any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which-

(A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, ...

The particular complaint by Hoopla with regards to this statute has been coined “Reverse Passing Off” and it has been held to violate the statute when another entity obliterates the original person’s trademark before reselling the same good under their own.
The court finds that Hoopla’s event is a “good or service” as defined by the Lanham Act, but further states that in order for Nike to have violated the statute Hoopla must prove that they traded off the good will of Hoopla’s invention. Here there is no such allegation so the court dismisses with instructions that Hoopla may restate a claim.
The court further points out that an idea cannot be protected by trademark, only the product itself. Here, the court explains that Hoopla has only alleged that Nike stole the idea, not the goodwill created by their trademark.
Copyright Law: The court determines that Hoopla has failed to state a valid claim as they have not attempted to show all of the elements of copyright law for any of their allegations. First, the game itself is not copyrightable just the brochures, instructions etc of which Hoopla has not alleged Nike infringed.

Analysis of this case: The case shows the courts adamant position against protecting the mere idea behind something in both trademark and copyright law. They reiterate that the interpretation of the Berne Convention does not expand this concept. This is a case where the court seems to be sympathetic to Hoopla’s plight, and therefore allow them and almost suggest to them to amend the complaint if they are able, however, the law here is too well established for them to even entertain the thought of this case turning out any differently.

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