Social media reactions were plentiful this past weekend when online users got wind of a new ad in which casual-sneaker-maker Skechers takes aim at athletic industry behemoth Nike.
The ad mocks an embarrassing public moment for Nike last month when Duke Blue Devils basketball star Zion Williamson’s Nike PG 2.5 shoe split in half about 30 seconds into a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The spot, which ran in The New York Times’ Sunday paper and is also running in other U.S. papers and magazines, features a logoless sneaker that resembles the one Williamson wore on that fateful night. It plays off of Nike’s popular slogan by using the tagline “”Just Blew It” and is tied together with the Skechers logo and an additional dig: “We won’t split on you.”
While the Skechers versus Nike battle is just now making big waves on the consumer front, for years, the shoe brands have been sparring behind the scenes in U.S. courts over claims of trademark infringement on the part of Skechers.
The saga started in January 2016, when Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike sued Manhattan, Calif.-based Skechers, claiming that several of its sneakers — including the Skechers’ Burst, Women’s Flex Appeal, Men’s Flex Advantage, Girl’s Skech Appeal and Boy’s Flex Advantage shoes — contained design elements that infringed on multiple Nike-owned patents.
Skechers responded that year by petitioning the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board to review the patentability of several Nike designs, arguing that all eight patents Nike sought to protect in its case were invalid. In its decisions throughout 2016, PTAB denied all of Skechers’ requests to review the patentability (or inter partes review) of those eight patents.
As it stands, the legal imbroglio continues to drag on through the courts, and Skechers’ latest move shows the brand making a play for the basketball market — where it lacks a presence and Nike has a foothold.
For what its worth, Skechers has been no stranger to trademark suits over the years — finding itself on the receiving end of a number of copycat claims from several big brands. Last year, Skechers settled a lawsuit brought against it by Adidas in September 2015 alleging that Skechers unlawfully infringed on several of its trademarks. In October 2014, Skechers was also a party in the sweeping suit filed by Converse against dozens of shoe sellers including New Balance, Fila and Tory Burch, Walmart. Converse argued that the companies, including Skechers, were violating a common-law trademark protected in a trade-and-tariff code by importing “knockoff” sneakers with similar elements. Before that, in 2008, Skechers settled a trademark infringement suit with Crocs, which claimed the brand infringed upon a number of Crocs’ patents and its trade dress. Skechers denied all of the allegations and filed counterclaims against Crocs.
In an unusual spin last year, Skechers filed its own suit against Adidas for false advertising and unfair competition in connection with a bribery scandal that surfaced in 2017 involving one Adidas executive, a brand consultant and several college basketball coaches. The basis of Skechers’ claim was that its business was harmed when Adidas allegedly paid college recruits under the table and gained an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Skechers, in 2015, also filed suit against fashion footwear maker Steve Madden, claiming the New York-based label knocked off its Go Walk patent.
While Nike’s shoe blowout was an undeniable headline-making event last month, some experts have been on the fence about whether the brand — with a market capitalization of roughly $135 billion — could be materially hurt by the one-off event.
“This kind of situation [where a sneaker malfunctions] is not uncommon,” Matt Powell, The NPD Group Inc.’s senior sports industry analyst, told FN last week. “There have been instances over the years when a shoe [simply] failed — in similar kinds of circumstances. This is one shoe, and Nike makes hundreds of millions of pairs of shoes … Because they’re so massive — and they have scale — they can do anything they want. Diversity [of product and categories], as well as size, really protects them.”
To boot, last week, on the heels of the social media frenzy surrounding the on-court sneaker moment, Nike’s stock handily soared to an all-time high as investors cheered blockbuster fourth-quarter results at Foot Locker and what they perceived to be renewed momentum in the athletic sector.