Staying on Your Toes


The IP work at the National Basketball Association (NBA) is exciting and fast-paced, much like the game itself, says NBA Executive Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Ayala Deutsch in an interview with Aaron McDonald.

In 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics, a professional men’s basketball team, uprooted from Seattle, Washington for a new life as the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving the Pacific Northwest city unrepresented in the world-famous National Basketball Association (NBA) (USA).

But while Ayala Deutsch, Executive Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at the NBA (USA), may no longer need to travel from her office in New York to Seattle on NBA business, she did attend the Annual Meeting in Seattle this week.

Ms. Deutsch is responsible for all IP matters related to the NBA and its affiliated leagues, including the Women’s National Basketball Association, of which Seattle Storm, a professional team, is a member. 

The NBA, which currently has 30 members (29 in the United States and one in Canada), is popular far beyond U.S. shores and its members’ games are watched by millions around the world.

”Working across multiple jurisdictions and with big brands brings challenges. Much of this is exacerbated by ever-changing developments in technology."

“The essence of the brand has remained consistent since the league was established in 1946, but we continue to build on that core in new and innovative ways. The NBA is focused on adapting the brand appropriately as we expand into additional international markets,” Ms. Deutsch says.

Licensing is critical for the NBA’s business, and there currently are more than 200 licensees across products and regions. The most recent playing season (2017/2018) was the NBA’s first under a new long-term partnership with global sports brand Nike, Inc.—a relationship that covers consumer products as well as official uniforms and other on-court apparel. 

Working across multiple jurisdictions and with big brands brings challenges. Much of this, Ms. Deutsch says, is exacerbated by ever-changing developments in technology.

“While 3D printing presents exciting opportunities, it also brings new and challenging enforcement issues,” she says, adding that the same is true when it comes to virtual trademarks and blockchain technology.

The NBA uses a combination of strategies to police its trademarks, including employing outside vendors, coordinating with other brand owners and platform operators, partnering with government and officials, and participating in industry-wide initiatives such as law enforcement training and consumer education, she explains.

In addition, she says, there is an active customs enforcement program, including a portfolio of customs recordations in a number of key markets.

“We also pursue civil litigation, administrative proceedings and criminal cases, as appropriate, and we work with IP counsel and investigators across the United States and internationally to follow leads and develop cases,” she adds.

Much like the games themselves, the work of an NBA counsel is “fast-paced and exciting,” Ms. Deutsch concludes, and there’s plenty to keep her on her toes. 

National Basketball Association, INTA, INTA 2018, basketball, NBA, trademark, Ayala Deutsch