Whether you’re an inventor, involved in research and development, or simply a sports fan, here’s a juicy story about intellectual property litigation and Major League Baseball. Nationally prominent sports psychologist and throwing coach Tom House had to take a licensee to court to protect his trademarks.
House, known for coaching Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Nolan Ryan and other elite athletes, had a 2014 licensing agreement with Players Dugout, Inc. The agreement allowed Players Dugout (PDI) to use House’s name and trademarks for his company, the National Pitching Association (NPA).
This was to support an “exclusive, worldwide license to train baseball and softball pitchers” by PDI to use NPA’s “patented” “personally adaptive joint threshold training” (PAJTT) method.
The word “patented” is in quotes in that sentence because PAJTT isn’t actually patented, in the legal sense. That came up in the trial, but the court ruled that it was not dispositive.
In 2016, House and the NPA sued PDI for breach of contract, trademark infringement and unfair competition. He and the company contended PDI had stopped paying the royalties required by the agreement but had continued to use the trademarks and the PAJTT method, which PDI called its “velocity plus arm care program.”
PDI countersued. It claimed that House and the NPA were obligated to defend the intellectual property during the course of the licensing agreement. However, PDI claimed, other baseball camps and academies were using the PAJTT method – and House/NPA did little to nothing to stop them.
Furthermore, PDI claimed it had been depositing the required royalties into an escrow account rather than withholding them entirely. The royalties would be paid in full if House and the NPA won their claims.
A jury agrees with House and the NPA on each claim
In November 2021, the case went to trial in Kentucky. After eight days, a jury awarded Tom House and the NPA damages in each of their claims:
- $40,386.20 in damages for breach of contract
- $1 in actual compensation plus $340,000 for lost profits regarding federal trademark and unfair competition claims
- $1 in actual compensation plus $67,649.82 in punitive damages for unfair competition claims under Kentucky law
The defendants also won some of their counterclaims against the NPA. But the case still counts as a big win for House and the enforcement of his trademark.
PDI requests reconsideration
Despite the results in favor of Tom House, PID asked the trial court to reconsider the jury’s verdict as unreasonable. If the court did not find, as a matter of law, that PDI should have won, then PDI asked for a new trial.
Several legal arguments were considered, including whether House and the NPA had fairly warned PDI about the damages they were seeking and whether the jury’s verdict went so against the weight of the evidence that it was unfair to PDI.
The court considered the arguments carefully and ruled against PDI and for House and the NPA. It did partially grant PDI’s motion for attorney fees, although it fully granted House’s and the NPA’s motion for attorney fees.
This is a big win for intellectual property holders in Kentucky
Tom House is a nationally known figure, known not only for coaching elite athletes but also for bringing his innovative techniques to a wide audience. That audience has even extended to pitching prospects from India, as shown in the real-life movie Million Dollar Arm, in which House was played by the actor Bill Paxton.
And yet in the Players’ Dugout case, House and his company still had to defend their trademark rights in court. Content creators and trademark holders do need to be vigilant about performing their own duties under licensing agreements and, if necessary, be prepared to litigate to enforce their rights and defend against counterclaims.