Sportvision, Inc. et al v. MLB Advanced Media L.P.: MLB Accused of Stealing More Than Just Bases

Reports Patent

Complaint, Sportvision, Inc et al. v. MLB Advanced Media L.P., No. 1:18-cv-03025 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 5, 2018), complaint hosted by SCRIBD.

On April 5, 2018, Sportvision and its parent company, SportsMEDIA Technology (“SMT”), threw their first pitch in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York—and it looks like this game may well go into extra innings.

When SMT acquired the Emmy award-winning sports graphics company Sportvision on October 4, 2016, SMT assumed that it had inherited the benefits of Sportvision’s prized contract with MLB Advanced Media L.P. (“MLBAM”), an internet media company formed as a limited partnership between the club owners of Major League Baseball. Sportvision had developed the league-wide PITCHf/x system, an arrangement of computerized cameras that tracks baseball pitches and allows relevant data to be represented visually to facilitate viewing and analysis. The ubiquitous use of PITCHf/x throughout the league produced a reliable $3 million a year income for Sportvision.

Just two hours after SMT’s $25 million purchase of Sportvision, one of Sportvision’s key employees, Ryan Zander, allegedly resigned to begin working directly for MLBAM. In 2017, MLBAM discontinued its use of PITCHf/x and integrated competing Trackman technology as it transitioned to a new pitch-tracking system, Statcast. SMT argues that this transition violates the terms and implied good faith agreement of Sportvision’s pre-acquisition contract. Additionally, SMT asserts that Zander’s unique knowledge of SMT/Sportvision trade secrets enabled the development of Statcast, which itself integrates a PITCHcast system that allegedly derives from SMT’s patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,341,530.

Consistent with the subject matter, the complaint organizes its assertions into three ‘strikes.’ “Strike One” alleges ten distinct breaches of contractual obligations to use SMT’s technology exclusively. Additionally, it articulates the basis for SMT’s belief that PITCHcast infringes on the aforementioned patent. “Strike Two” alleges that MLBAM failed to honor at least ten specific positive obligations it contractually owed to SMT. Finally, “Strike Three” describes various instances in which MLBAM allegedly misappropriated both Sportvision’s intellectual property and its trade secrets.

The complaint identifies eight specific claims for relief: infringement of the SMT-owned patent, misappropriation of Sportvision trade secrets under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, a similar misappropriation claim under the New York common law, and five claims of breach of contract.

So why is this important? Sportvision revolutionized the way we consume sports media. It has been a pioneer in the field of in-game visual enhancements and is the company that famously introduced the yellow line to football. PITCHf/x was similarly revolutionary for Major League Baseball: it provided tools for careful statistical analysis of pitchers and gave viewers on-screen visualizations that facilitated their ability to understand and appreciate the game. Sportvision technologies (and those developed by its competitors) are now industry standards, and as these technologies become more sophisticated, they continue to have enormous cultural and economic implications. The introduction of Statcast was itself quite controversial—the way it calculates pitch speed is different enough from PITCHf/x’s method that it has influenced how Major League Baseball maintains its player statistics and its league records. This suit is a legal battle for the technological heart of America’s Pastime.

 

David Sackstein is a 1L student at Harvard Law School.