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And just like that, we find ourselves in court ...

Well, golly, that didn’t take long, did it? Major League Baseball Properties has filed suit against Upper Deck in Manhattan federal court alleging trademark infringement over the company’s use of MLB logos on trading cards without permission. “Let the games begin.”

Sorry to be a couple of weeks premature with that exhortation, what with our Canadian friends readying for their two weeks of Olympic hospitality, but for collectors of modern baseball cards, things are about to get interesting.

The immediate impetus for the suit was the recent release of a pair of 2009-dated Upper Deck baseball issues, Signature Stars and Ultimate Collection. We displayed a couple of Signature Stars cards on yesterday’s blog and intoned at the time that a lawsuit was likely on the way. No great talent for prescience was required to make that leap. The lawsuit also noted that Upper Deck was “on the verge” of distributing what it described as several other unauthorized card lines, an obvious reference to the company’s regular-issue baseball series, which is scheduled for release in early February.

The suit said that Upper Deck’s cards improperly feature various sport and team logos and that some 2010 packaging featuring Derek Jeter may confuse consumers because of its similarities to authorized packaging used in 2009.

“Upper Deck’s current conduct is reflective of a pattern of utter disrespect for the contractual and intellectual property rights of those from whom it licenses valuable trademarks,” the complaint said.

In reporting on the suit, Reuters News Service also said that Upper Deck remains in default of more than $2.4 million it owes Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball reportedly seeks to halt sales of unauthorized cards and seeks triple and punitive damages.

While the suit may seem narrow enough at first blush, the implications for Major League Baseball and indeed other professional sports as well are potentially significant. To my knowledge, the parameters of what is covered by league licensing of team logos and uniform indicia has never been explicitly defined in the face of a court challenge, and this in theory could open that particular Pandora’s box.

But there would seem to be a big “if” there, too. Such a challenge to the basic underpinnings of the licensing provisions used in various forms by virtually all professional sports leagues would be so far reaching and potentially cataclysmic that vast forces would be marshalled against it. The legal maneuverings could take years and gobble up millions of dollars.

The evolution of the baseball card business has a history of creating some odd bedfellows along the way, and I’ve got a feeling that if the federal courts don’t put this baby to bed right away, we could be in for a bumpy ride.