January 6, 2023

PN Client and Soccer Legend Ronaldinho Strikes Back At Trading Card Co. In IP Row - LAW360 Feature

PN Client and Soccer Legend Ronaldinho Strikes Back At Trading Card Co. In IP Row

Legendary Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho is suing a Texas sports collectibles company in New York federal court, alleging the business has infringed on his publicity rights for several years by selling unauthorized products bearing his likeness and purported autograph.

UPDATE -- March 27, 2023 -- Leaf Trading Cards LLC urged the New York court to toss out Ronaldinho’s suit saying “The case is, at best, reflective of a misunderstanding between Leaf … and Ronaldinho.” In a statement to Law 360, Taso Pardalis said, “Leaf's continued failure to cooperate even after our cease and desist and their continuing failure to acknowledge that there is no contract here demonstrates their intent to profit from plaintiff's success, by misleading consumers and the public.”

Ronaldo De Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho, filed his lawsuit Wednesday against Leaf Trading Cards LLC three weeks after the company sued him in Texas federal court accusing him of breach of contract relating to a 2021 agreement bearing his signature that Leaf argues allowed it to produce and distribute autographed trading cards.

Ronaldinho filed the lawsuit along with Michigan-based Drob Collectibles LLC, to whom he "has assigned his intellectual property rights," according to his complaint. Ronaldinho enters into licensing and endorsement agreements with third parties individually or through Drob, his lawsuit said.

Ronaldinho's attorneys sent Leaf a cease and desist letter on Dec. 13 and asked for an accounting for profits generated from the sale of his memorabilia, according to his lawsuit. Two days later, Leaf sued Ronaldinho, saying he breached a statement of authenticity agreement dated Aug. 6, 2021.

Ronaldinho disputes the validity of the agreement, saying it was not legally binding. "At no point during the relevant time period was there a legitimate licensing agreement between defendant and Ronaldinho," the retired soccer player's lawsuit said.

On Aug. 2, 2021, Ronaldinho signed 1,000 autographs that Drob was to exchange with another memorabilia dealer for 1,000 autographs from another Brazilian soccer legend, Pelé, according to Ronaldinho's lawsuit. During the signing session, Ronaldinho did not sign any Leaf cards, his lawsuit said. Pelé died Dec. 29.

Ronaldinho said Leaf's "failure to cooperate with plaintiffs in the face of a demand to cease and desist infringing activities demonstrates defendant's bad faith intent to profit from plaintiff's success, by misleading, confusing and deceiving consumers."

Leaf "continues to blatantly use Ronaldinho's name, nickname, picture, likeness and signature to advertise its trading card sets, despite the demand to cease and desist," Ronaldinho said.

Leaf has infringed Ronaldinho's publicity rights "for a significant number of years," his lawsuit alleges, adding that "the exact number will be ascertained at trial." Ronaldinho's lawsuit said Leaf has not claimed there was any prior licensing agreement other than the 2021 statement of authenticity that's in dispute.

Ronaldinho is seeking actual and punitive damages of more than $2 million, plus pre- and post-judgment interest and attorney fees. His lawsuit also seeks a declaration that he has not breached any agreement with Leaf and an injunction against the business.

The lawsuit was filed in New York because Leaf conducts business there through its online sales, the complaint said.

"We are confident that the U.S. legal system will protect the rights of Ronaldinho," one of his attorneys, Taso Pardalis, told Law360 Thursday. He said the document Leaf has "is not a contract or a memorandum of any kind of meeting of the minds."

Counsel for Leaf did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ronaldinho is represented by Taso Pardalis, Eleni Melekou and Joseph D. Nohavicka of Pardalis & Nohavicka.

Leaf Trading Cards is represented by Jorge Miguel Hernandez and James Robert Gourley of Carstens Allen & Gourley LLP.

The case is Drob Collectibles LLC et al. v. Leaf Trading Cards LLC, case number 1:23-cv-00063, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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