Design Patents Can Help You Stay a Foot Ahead of Copycats

Intellectual property respect and protection should be an integral core value of companies. Failing to legally protect your designs can lead to copycats and loss of sales. In the highly competitive sneaker market, business is cutthroat as shoe manufacturers consistently test innovation and legal boundaries. A quick Google search will reveal numerous results of copyright infringement allegations surrounding many designer and athletic sneaker brands since 1987, when the first sneaker patent case took place (Avia v. LA Gear).

Nike recently sued Skechers (Nike, Inc. v. Skechers U.S.A., Inc., 2:19-cv-08418 (C.D. Cal.)) over 12 sneaker designs, arguing that Skechers has a history of knocking off successful sneaker designs of popular competitors like Adidas (ADIDAS AMERICA, INC., ADIDAS AG, and ADIDAS INTERNATIONAL MARKETING B.V., v.  SKECHERS USA, INC., 3:15-cv-01741). The legal documents are juicy reading and quite convincing that it is a “slam dunk” case of infringement. 

In fact, Skechers had a witness who previously testified in another case that Skecher’s owner expressly directed staff to “Skecherise” top selling popular brand designs. This evidence was included to show a pattern of practice by the sneaker giant. The complaint even included photos of competitor sneakers next to Skecher designs with Skecher’s notes on how to copy the competitor design. That type of evidence will be hard to ignore when evaluating whether the Skecher designs are in fact infringing or merely “inspired by” the Nike designs. Corporate culture and practices at Skechers are likely to lead to a negative and costly outcome in this case.

While it is true that many, if not all, sneaker brands grew by copying, the maturity of the legal landscape regarding design patent has made it more difficult to stay out of court for copying sneaker design. Innovation is what fuels the marketplace and ultimately creates consumer interest.  Protecting your business’ innovation creates leverage against competitors who want to profit from your success. If your product is popular because of its appearance, consider design patent protection as an affordable tool to protect your designs from knockoffs.

Author Bio:Tracy Jong is a patent and trademark attorney at Tracy Jong Law Firm. Tracy focuses her practice on client counseling related to patent and trademark prosecution for a range of clients including small startup companies, restaurants and bars, craft beverage companies and product manufacturers. She may be contacted at TJong@TracyJongLawFirm.com. Connect with her at: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram. Visit her website at www.TracyJongLawFirm.com.

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