The independent news organization of Duke University

Duke joins pro sports leagues, other universities in fighting counterfeit goods

<p>Photo courtesy of Nike</p>

Photo courtesy of Nike

It’s gameday in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and you want a jersey to fit in with the Crazies. You can either go to Duke Stores and spend over $100 on an authentic Duke Basketball jersey from Nike or scour the Internet for much cheaper counterfeit apparel. 

Duke wants to make sure that you show up to Cameron in the official version and has taken legal action to ensure it. The University—along with the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and IMG College Licensing—won a significant legal victory against counterfeiters in a lawsuit decided May 1. 

The plaintiffs sued three websites—nba-cheapjerseys.com, nfl-cheapjerseys.com and cheap-mlb-jerseys.com—for trademark infringement. The websites failed to respond to the lawsuit in time, so Judge Edmund Chang of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered a default ruling.

“This Court further finds, in light of the default (which triggers the finding that the allegations are true), that Defaulting Defendants are liable for willful federal trademark infringement and counterfeiting..., false designation of origin..., and violation of the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act,” the order stated.

Now the websites are banned from using the plaintiffs’ trademarks, and the court order required that the domains be turned over to the plaintiffs or disabled altogether—along with financial compensation for damages. The judge also ordered any companies that the websites relied on for their business—like domain name registries and credit cards—to dissociate with the defendants and help shut down their operations. 

The three websites sold non-licensed clothing, jewelry, jerseys and other goods, and each one awarded Duke $50,000. The judge offered several ways for Duke to recover that money, though it’s unclear how much will eventually find its way to Duke as a result of the lawsuit.

The case is only one of the latest in the fight against counterfeit athletic products. Duke is one of several universities, along with professional sports leagues, that have sued Chinese counterfeiters in an effort to stem the flow of fake goods that are sold online. 

“This was the outcome of one of a series of lawsuits filed over the past several years by major league sports associations and universities to combat counterfeiting of licensed products coming from China,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email. “The universities rotate as lead plaintiffs, and it was Duke’s turn in this particular case. Any funds that are recovered get divided up among the participating schools.”

The lawsuit also fits with Duke’s reputation as one of the most active trademark litigants in the country, though the University usually sticks to opposing legitimate—though still potentially unlawful—trademark applications.

The Chronicle found five additional cases where six other universities, along with the four professional sports leagues and IMG, a sports marketing firm that represents NCAA-affiliated university, sued a web of counterfeiters. The other universities include Oklahoma University, University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, Auburn University, West Virginia University and University of Nebraska.

The plaintiffs use the same language across cases. The defendants are “individuals and business entities who, upon information and belief, reside in the People’s Republic of China and other foreign jurisdictions,” and they create thousands of online stores that appear authentic but consistently sell counterfeit products. 

In each case, including Duke’s, the plaintiffs were represented by Grier, Burns and Crain, an intellectual property law firm based in Chicago. Attorneys from the law firm that represented Duke and the other plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle.

According to their claims, the leagues and universities assert the sale of counterfeit goods has “irreparably harmed and continue to be irreparably damaged” and seek to put a stop to the counterfeit sales, along with monetary damages. 

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