Fielding Anything and Everything
Karen Gaunt serves as general counsel of USA Baseball
Published in 2024 Ohio Super Lawyers magazine
By Trevor Kupfer on December 28, 2023
As chair of Dinsmore’s IP litigation and enforcement practice group, and previous chair of its trademark and copyright practice group, Karen Gaunt advises clients such as Microsoft, Oakley and Procter & Gamble on intellectual property enforcement, clearance, transactions and litigation. It’s work she enjoys, but the litigation tends to move slowly.
“IP lawsuits take years and years,” Gaunt says. “The longest I had was nearly six years. A partner in my group has had a case that’s been going on for well over a decade.”
Things move a bit faster with another of Gaunt’s clients: USA Baseball, the national governing body for the sport’s amateurs. Gaunt is the organization’s outside general counsel, and most of her work there is transactional. “I field anything and everything that may come up,” she says. Gaunt pulls in other lawyers at her firm for areas outside her specialty, with her knowledge of the organization adding value and context.
USA Baseball found her in 2008, when a colleague who was doing trademark work for the league recommended Gaunt to help with contracts, licensing, and cease-and-desists. “It just grew from there,” she says.
At this point, she’s assisted with everything from insurance and real estate to immigration and tax issues. “They have all sorts of general commercial-type matters that don’t really fall neatly into any box,” she says, “but I’ve been able to do for them just because I’ve worked for them for so long and have stayed connected with everything they have going on.”
Which is a lot.
Shortly before Gaunt started working with USA Baseball, the organization moved from Tucson to Cary, North Carolina, creating a headquarters and National Training Complex comprising four fields on 221 acres. “They put out a request for proposal and had a variety of places interested. Cary offered a lot of land, but it was all pine trees. It was kind of a blank slate, which was a little daunting, but Cary also showed commitment to partner and really grow something,” says Gaunt, who worked on developing the huge complex. “The next phase of development involves building office space and an indoor training complex,” she adds.
USAB’s member organizations include many youth baseball groups, such as the Babe Ruth League, and when they asked the organization to create a performance standard for metal bats, USAB turned to Gaunt to handle the legalities.
“That was a multiyear process of developing a testing standard to see if metal performed within this range of a wood bat. Then, once the standard was established, that meant the bat could be licensed as a USA Baseball-approved bat and bear the trademark,” she says. “It was quite complicated, and I was on the front line, working on it every day.”
The standard was adopted in 2018, and all national members required players to use bats with that stamp.
There are many players in the sport’s sandlot of governance, but they play well together, Gaunt says.
“They all get along because we have this shared common interest of making sure the game remains a national pastime, and that the best and brightest are being identified and getting the training they need to be superstars in the MLB someday,” she says. “When I feel like I’m adding value—when I find ways to work with other organizations toward this shared goal—that’s when I enjoy it the most. I feel like I’m a part of something bigger.”
Gaunt is also on the legal commission of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, an international governing body that merged in 2013. “One of the reasons for the push to merge the federations into one was to better coordinate the efforts to get baseball and softball back in the Olympics,” Gaunt says. Both sports were voted out for 2012 and 2016, then came back in 2020. They will not be at Paris this year.
“But we’re very hopeful for Los Angeles in 2028,” Gaunt says. “It helps that baseball is popular in the United States, and we have the infrastructure, so we’re hoping it’s like Japan in 2020. You never know until it’s a done deal, but everyone is hopeful.”
Gaunt is also involved in the World Baseball Classic, which she has attended twice. “That is more driven at the WBSC level, and it’s in partnership with Major League Baseball,” she says. “There are a variety of legal agreements that are associated with that relative to licensing and hosting and all sorts of things.”
And then there are the myriad competitions involving USA Baseball’s national teams. Gaunt helps with evolving concerns including name, image and likeness, and athlete health and safety. “The Larry Nassar debacle pushed through Congress down to all the governing bodies. The challenge was implementing SafeSport policies, updates and amendments across many differing situations. It felt like a moving target for a while, but it’s more settled now,” she says.
If that sounds like a lot, that’s why Gaunt is drawn to it.
“I’ve gotten to do all sorts of interesting work, a lot of which is not IP,” she says. “I am sort of making sure that the left hand knows what the right is doing, that everybody’s communicating, and that things are aligning as they should. … Thankfully these organizations have a lot of foresight on a variety of pathways that they took simultaneously to grow their impact within the sport, and I was lucky enough to be along for the ride.”
It has also given her a new appreciation for baseball.
“I follow it a lot more closely,” she says, “and not just how the Reds are doing.”
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