Tech company sues MLBAM, alleging theft of its pitch tracking system

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A sports technology company sued Major League Baseball Advanced Media yesterday, claiming that baseball’s internet and analytics arm breached the contract between the parties and stole the PITCHf/x system, changing its name and integrating it into the Statcast system under another name.

The plaintiff is SportsMEDIA Technology Corp. (SMT), a company whose predecessor was hired to help Major League Baseball build PITCHf/x over a decade ago. SMT’s predecessor company developed the system and, per a series of contracts, let MLB use it in games to track pitch speeds, locations and other data with which we have all become familiar. SMT says that things were going fine . . . until they weren’t.

Pursuant to the complaint, the most recent renewal of the deal came in January 2016, at which time the parties agreed to extend the deal until the end of 2019. That fall, however, MLBAM hired an SMT employee who had resigned. That employee then allegedly told SMT that MLBAM would not use PITCHf/x for the 2017 MLB season. In 2017 MLBAM began using PITCHcast, which is now a component of the Statcast system. SMT claims that this series of events represents a breach of the 2016 contract, trade secret theft and patent infringement.

Daniel Kaufman, a lawyer and sports law professor writing at the SportsTechie site, says that the case will likely come down to the terms of the 2016 renewal, which provide for a means of terminating the deal before 2019, with MLBAM likely arguing that all bets were off a few months after it was signed for some reason and SMT arguing that the agreement remained in force. How that impacts the trade secret theft and patent infringement is unclear. Either way, this will presumably be a long and complicated case.

And maybe an ugly one. From the complaint:

“Over its 30-year history, SMT has never encountered an executive leader(ship) of a major us sports league behaving as if the rules of civility, professional conduct, us contract law and us patent law did not apply to their actions and behavior . . .”

If any of that rings a bell, recall that the executive in charge of MLBAM at the time was Bob Bowman, who was forced out last December due to workplace misconduct and allegations that he was, to use a technical legal term, a world class jackwagon. I presume he’s gonna be one of the first people deposed in this case. For MLBAM’s sake, here’s hoping their ex-employee isn’t holding a grudge.