In a major legal twist, Panini America has reached a pivotal agreement to pay a substantial settlement of $25 million, effectively resolving a lawsuit filed against them by bankruptcy creditors with ties to the original creators of Wild Card Football trading cards. This landmark case, which had been looming since February of the previous year, was scheduled for trial in September.
The lawsuit was instigated by Hanlin Bavely, the Chapter 7 trustee representing AAA Sports, Inc., the progenitor of Wild Card products. The focal point of the allegation revolved around allegations of copyright infringement committed by Panini against AAA Sports’ designs dating back to the 1990s, notably targeting the “Stat Smashers” insert card designs from 1992 and 1993.
Despite facing a multitude of challenges during the 1990s, including disputes involving star players, NFLPA, and NFL Properties, Wild Card Football eventually declared bankruptcy in February 1994. Notably, its copyrights remained intact throughout this tumultuous period.
Throughout the legal proceedings, court records presented side-by-side juxtapositions of AAA Sports’ original card designs and Panini’s recent creations, spanning nearly three decades. The heart of the matter was Panini’s alleged replication of AAA Sports’ “Stat Smashers” designs in their 2020 and 2021 Certified Football cards, both physically and in digital formats.
The significant $25 million settlement has been structured to ensure a complete restitution of claims for the creditors of the estate, encompassing almost three decades of accrued interest. The decision to settle was influenced by the considerable costs and preparation linked to a potential trial.
This legal resolution comes against the backdrop of a challenging year for Panini. The company encountered adversities such as a break-in at their Dallas office, a notable exodus of employees to Fanatics, the NFLPA’s announcement of severing ties with Panini, and a series of legal disputes with Fanatics.
However, it’s important to note that the settlement remains pending final approval from a Texas bankruptcy judge, as it falls within the jurisdiction where the case was filed. This development underscores the intricate and evolving nature of legal battles concerning intellectual property in the dynamic landscape of the trading card industry.