MLB Advanced Media Sued for Patent Infringement

  • Apr 23 2018
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  • Category: Blog

Early in the baseball season last year, major league pitchers appeared to have lost a bit of velocity. As it turns out, Major League Baseball had started using a new pitch-tracking system which was built in-house. The system, part of a comprehensive player-tracking and data-collecting initiative, Statcast, relies on radar in addition to cameras. Now, questions about the origins of the system are being raised in a breach of contract and patent infringement lawsuit filed by SMT, parent of Sportsvision, the company that created the pitch-tracking system Pitchf/x.

The Backdrop

In 2006, Sportsvision entered into a contract with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) to create the pitch-tracking system Pitchf/x. The technology, installed in every major league park by 2008, uses a series of cameras to track the movement, spin and velocity of pitches, statistics that baseball fans have become readily familiar with over the last decade.

The contract called for Sportsvision to maintain the pitch-tracking system in exchange for a portion of the revenue generated from pitch data sales to broadcasters and other partners.

MLBAM renewed Sportsvision’s contract a number of times, and the latest option was scheduled to run through 2019. MLBAM started using the new system last season, however, which uses radar in addition to cameras.

SMT claims MLBAM breached its contract, infringed on Sportsvision’s patent and stole its trade secrets. SMT contends MLBAM’s pitch track system was partially copied from Pitchf/x and that MLBAM entered into new arrangements with third parties to build system components that were similar to ones initially designed by Sportsvision. Finally, the lawsuit alleges MLBAM used inside information to create its system provided by a former Sportvision executive who left the company days after it was acquired by SMT to take a position with MLBAM.

In sum, the lawsuit claims that SMT’s pitch-tracking patent, co-owned with ESPN, grants them exclusive ownership of any form of MLBAM pitch-tracking. Basically, SMT is claiming that it has exclusive rights to all pitch tracking systems and that the MLBAM system was created from trade secrets stolen by a former Sportsvision employee.

The Takeaway

Whether Sportsvision has a valid patent infringement claim remains unclear, since the system now being used by the MLB is distinctive it its use of doppler radar in addition to cameras. Nor does it appear that Sportsvision challenged any of MLBAM’s subsequent patents for a  pitch-tracking system. The strength of the trade secret theft claims is also uncertain since Sportsvision may not have evidence showing that the former employee pilfered trade secrets or proof that he was under a nondisclosure agreement to begin with.

Whether SMT will prevail in its breach of contract and patent infringement claims remains to be seen. In the meantime, this case highlights how patent disputes require the advice and counsel of experienced intellectual property attorneys.