A lean compromise might be better than a fat lawsuit, as English poet George Herbert once put it, but some of the footwear industry’s most recognizable brands begged to differ in 2016.
During the past 12 months, a bevy of shoe industry power players enlisted the help of their legal teams and the United States judicial system to engage in a few old-fashioned legal imbroglios.
Here, we round up the most drama-filled of them all.
Aquazzura Sues Steve Madden, Ivanka Trump & Marc Fisher Footwear
Red-hot luxury label Aquazzura took major steps to protect its celebrity-endorsed styles this year.
In June, the company filed separate suits against Steve Madden and Ivanka Trump — and her shoe label partners M.B. Fisher LLC and Marc Fisher Footwear — alleging trademark infringement on several of its popular styles.
Marc Fisher and Trump fired back with a counterclaim against Aquazzura, asking the courts to rule that the shoes in question aren’t subject to trademark protection. Trump’s legal team further stated that the Ivanka Trump style in question, called Hettie, didn’t violate trade dress laws, create unfair competition or unfair trade practices.
Adidas Sues APL, Skechers & Ecco
Adidas had a bone to pick with several labels in 2016. The German company sued upscale sneaker brand Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) in March for using a three-stripe mark on the sides of its sneakers. It followed up in April with a suit against Ecco USA Inc. and Ecco SKO A/S for using three stripes on the sides of two of its men’s styles and one of its women’s sneakers.
The firm didn’t stop there: It sued Skechers USA Inc. two times in a matter of months. In July, Adidas alleged that Skechers copied its Springblade technology — introduced in June 2013 — to create a similar technology, the Mega Flex. (That suit followed one filed in September 2015 said that Skechers infringed on its iconic Stan Smith sneaker, its three-stripe mark and its “Supernova” trademark.) In February, Adidas obtained a preliminary injunction prohibiting Skechers from selling two already-discontinued styles of shoes and from using the word “Supernova” in connection with a third discontinued style.
Ugg Sues Target, JC Penney, Muk Luks & Others
Ugg used the past year as an opportunity to ramp up its efforts to protect its iconic sheepskin boot. The company announced on Sept. 19 that it had filed six suits against brands and retailers — including Target Corp., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Muk Luks parent company Reliable Knitting Works — alleging trademark and/or design patent infringement of the Ugg brand. The cases, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of California on Sept. 14, were in addition to the lawsuits Ugg parent Deckers Brands filed against The Wet Seal LLC and Lamo Sheepskin Inc. in June.
Tamara Mellon Sues Jimmy Choo
There’s no reconciliation in sight for Tamara Mellon and the luxury company she co-founded. In September, Mellon filed a lawsuit against Jimmy Choo, just hours before Choo kicked off its 20th-anniversary bash for New York Fashion Week.
Mellon alleged that Choo initiated a boycott among Italian factory producers who refused to do business with Mellon and her new company. The suit said the boycott initiated by Choo and its parent company, Labellum Group, led to the bankruptcy of Tamara Mellon Brand LLC in December 2015, costing Mellon millions of dollars.
Converse Scores Partial Victory in Mega Trademark Suit
Nike-owned casual-athletic brand Converse took home a partial win in June in long-fought attempt to block more than 30 competitors from selling Chuck Taylor knockoffs. The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that two of Converse’s trademarks for the designs on the soles of its Chuck Taylor sneakers were enforceable. The Trade Commission issued an exclusion order blocking any non-Converse shoes with the soles to be sold in the U.S.
Converse filed the initial suit in October of 2014 against 31 different companies, including H&M, Fila, Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch. Many of them opted to settle out of court.
Designer Donald J. Pliner Sued By Former Label for Breach of Contract
Just days after launching two new collections — his first since stepping down from his eponymous brand in 2015 — veteran shoe designer Donald J. Pliner found himself on the receiving end of allegations of breach of contract and trademark infringement, among other things.
The allegations came via civil suit filed in August by DJP Holdings LLC, parent company of Donald J Pliner men’s and women’s footwear lines.
In 2011, Donald J. Pliner sold a majority stake in his namesake brand to private equity firm Castanea Partners, which backs DJP Holdings. DJP claimed that as a part of the sale, all of the trademarks and other intellectual property associated with the Donald J. Pliner brand were transferred to the firm. (Pliner had stayed on creative director immediately after the sale but stepped down in 2015.)
In its suit, DJP Holdings claimed that, in addition to offering “highly similar” products, Pliners’ newly launched footwear business as well as its collections unfairly compete with its products and put the designer in breach of contract.