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Initial Upper Deck cards hint of lawsuit to come ...

I had my column for Sports Collectors Digest finished last Friday when the 2009 Upper Deck Signature Series cards arrived in Iola. The significance there is that even though the set is technically a 2009 issue, the cards, packs and even the box itself carry a pretty stark pronouncement about the brave new world of Major League Baseball cards. So I scrapped the original column and started over.

With Upper Deck now without a license from MLB, the hobby is presumably getting a glimpse even with this 2009 issue of what the regular-issue 2010 Upper Deck Series I cards will look like. Each card carries the admonition “NOT Authorized by Major League Baseball,” which seems fairly unambiguous, but that’s about all that’s really clear cut in this instance.

The cards themselves make no mention of team nicknames, opting instead for city designations, and there’s no use of team logos as design elements on the cards. But as the cards shown here illustrate, there was seemingly little else done to accommodate the new licensing arrangement, unless you point to photo selection choices that apparently obscure or avoid entirely the team script across the front of the player’s jersey.

But don’t take my word for it about the potential for litigation. Major League Baseball Properties issued a statement that Friday morning alluding to the two 2009 baseball card sets from Upper Deck that use MLB logos as part of the cards, despite Topps’ role as the exclusive licensee of MLB.

“We are surprised and disappointed that Upper Deck, a former partner of ours, would violate our contract by clearly using our intellectual property without our permission,” said the statement issued by Matt Bourne, MLB’s vice president of business public relations. “We will vigorously use all legal means to protect the intellectual property of Major League Baseball and its member Clubs.”

Multiple attempts to solicit comment from Upper Deck officials on Friday produced no response. Upper Deck’s Series I Baseball cards are scheduled to be released the first week in February.