The Biggest Scandals & Legal Dramas to Hit the Shoe Industry in 2017

If there’s anything shoe companies know how to do just as well as creating fast-selling footwear, it might be lawyering up.

Several heavy-hitting shoe firms added their names to the court dockets this year, suing for a range of reasons — but as is often the case, trademark infringement suits were the most common.

Here, we round up six of the biggest legal dramas and other scandals that hit the shoe industry in 2017.

Gianvito Rossi Store Accused of Racial Discrimination Against Serena Williams

Luxury footwear label Gianvito Rossi in May refuted discrimination claims involving tennis star Serena Williams. The allegations came in a lawsuit filed against the company by a former employee of its Manhattan boutique. Former employee Whitney Wilburn reported that managers for the luxury shoe company allegedly called tennis star Williams “disgusting” and refused to give her the same discounts as white celebrities. “Consistent with our age of viral memes and false flags, there was no attempt at corroboration or substantiation of those baseless claims,” the company said in response. “Merely lifting words from a complaint out of context, without investigation and without even awaiting any reply in a pending proceeding, is a mere hit job.”

Aquazzura Drops Trademark Suit That Would Have Seen Ivanka Trump Testify

A yearlong legal battle that saw the first daughter’s eponymous line face allegations of trademark infringement from designer Edgardo Osorio’s luxury label Aquazzura came to an end in November when both parties agreed to withdraw the case. “Aquazzura Italia SRL, Ivanka Trump, Marc Fisher Holdings LLC and IT Collection LLC today jointly announce that they have agreed to settle their dispute amicably. The terms of the settlement are confidential. The parties are pleased to have been able to resolve the matter out of court to their mutual satisfaction,” the companies said in a joint statement at the time. In June 2016, Aquazzura filed a lawsuit against Ivanka Trump accusing her of copying Aquazzura’s “Wild Thing” fringe sandal and “Forever Marilyn” pump for her own line of footwear. Trump and her footwear partner, Marc Fisher Footwear LLC, countersued Aquazzura in August 2016. The parties were due to face off in court in March 2018, and a judge had previously ruled that Trump would have to testify.

Adidas Exec Embroiled in NCAA Bribery Scandal

Jim Gatto, Adidas’ director of global and four assistant basketball coaches at top-tier universities were among those arrested in September on charges of fraud, bribery and corruption following an FBI investigation dating back to 2015. The U.S. State Attorney’s Office said Gatto, “working in connection with corrupt advisers, funneled bribe payments to high school-aged players and their families to secure those players’ commitments to attend universities sponsored by [Adidas] rather than universities sponsored by rival athletic apparel companies.” Gatto and Adidas contractor Merl Code were formerly indicted in November.

Conviction Overturned for Widow of Murdered Vionic Founder Phillip Vasyli

A Bahamian court in August overturned Donna Vasyli’s murder conviction for the 2015 stabbing death of her husband and Vionic founder Phillip Vasyli and granted the widow bail at $250,000. In October 2015, a Bahamian jury found founder Donna Vasyli guilty of the crime, and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison that year. Phillip Vasyli, 59, was found stabbed to death on March 24, 2015, at the couple’s home in the upscale Old Fort Bay neighborhood in Nassau, Bahamas.

Crocs Cornerstone Patent in Jeopardy as Competitor Dawgs Raises the Stakes

Longtime rivals Crocs Inc. and USA Dawgs kept the court clerk busy in 2017 going back and forth over a number of legal matters, among them a dispute in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. After five years of Dawgs disputing Crocs’ D517789 design as unoriginal, the USPTO in August issued a final rejection of the cornerstone design patent that made Crocs a household name. While this is the third and final rejection by the USPTO — a significant outcome — Crocs can continue to fight through federal circuit courts and the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Dawgs also filed suit against Crocs this year alleging computer fraud and corporate sabotage — but that suit was later withdrawn.

Allbirds Sues Steve Madden

Wildly successful fashion footwear maker Steve Madden continued to shoulder accusations of trademark infringement into 2017 — among them a suit filed by Aquazzura in 2016 that continued into the current year and new suits from Dr. Martens and Allbirds. In December, The latter filed suit in the California Northern District Court accusing Steve Madden of copying the design of its signature wool lace-up sneaker — a product it introduced in 2015 — to create the Steven Women’s Traveller Sneakers, which landed this year. In its complaint — for trade dress infringement and unfair competition — Allbirds further alleged that in the summer of 2017, “a high-level executive for Steve Madden” contacted Allbirds and “made inquiries about the brand.” Allbirds claims Madden knocked off its design shortly thereafter.

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