In American Needle Inc. v. National Football League, the Seventh Circuit was presented with the question of whether the National Football League and its affiliates should be held liable for a violation of the Sherman Act as a result of the league’s exclusive apparel licensing contract with Reebok. This article traces the evolution of the Supreme Court’s intra-enterprise conspiracy doctrine, which stated that even a parent company and its wholly owned subsidiary could conspire in such a way as to invoke the Sherman Act. The intra-enterprise conspiracy doctrine was overturned in Copperweld Corp. v. Independence Tube Corp. in 1984, and since then, courts have continued to expand the exemption from antitrust liability created by Copperweld and, in some circumstances, have extended it to affiliated companies. This article details the Seventh Circuit’s decision in American Needle Inc. and explains how the court made the right call by (1) taking an incremental look at antitrust exemptions for affiliated companies and (2) finding that the NFL and its affiliates should be treated as a single entity for the purposes of trademark licensing and therefore should not be held to have violated the Sherman Act as a result of the exclusive licensing contract.
John O. Gunderson,
The Intra-Enterprise Conspiracy Doctrine in American Needle Inc. v. National Football League: Antitrust Law Continues Its Path Toward Rationality,
Seventh Circuit Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/seventhcircuitreview/vol4/iss1/2