Nike has scored a partial win its legal battle against NBA star Kawhi Leonard.
A judge in Oregon district court has ruled that Nike has ownership over the claw logo — which Leonard claims he created and to which Nike owns the copyright.
“I held that the [Leonard and Nike’s] contract established Nike’s ownership of the claw design because the claw design is a new piece of intellectual property created ‘in connection with’ the Nike contract,” the judge wrote.
But the athletic giant has not scored a complete victory. While the judge granted the Swoosh ownership of the design, he threw out four other counterclaims raised by Nike, including copyright infringement and copyright fraud. The court will hear arguments against Leonard for breach of contract. The athlete allegedly violated his Nike contract by filing a lawsuit against the brand in Southern District of California court, rather than in court in Nike’s home state of Oregon.
In June, Leonard filed a suit in California court against Nike over the claw logo. In the filing, the baller said he had plans to use the logo for multiple things such as apparel, footwear, sports camps and charity functions, but the Swoosh objected to the uses. In response, Nike filed a countersuit in July accusing Leonard of copyright infringement, fraud within his initial copyright filing and breach of contract.
In court documents, Nike acknowledged having seen a drafted design of a claw image, which it says the Los Angeles Clipper shared in 2011, shortly after signing to the brand. Although both Leonard’s drawing and Nike’s logo feature a claw with the athlete’s “KL” initials inside, Nike argued in a filing that the image Leonard developed is “plainly distinct” from its copyrighted design.
Leonard was signed with Nike from October 2011 until September 2018, when his deal expired. As part of the contract, the two-time NBA Finals MVP was prohibited from authorizing any third-party to use Nike trademarks. Nike alleged Leonard violated this condition by using the logo on various merchandise beginning in February 2016; it also said the star used the logo without permission on apparel sold during the 2019 NBA Finals.
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Now a New Balance athlete, Leonard filed in October 2019 to trademark two phrases, “City Views Over Interviews” and “What It Do Baby,” for use on footwear and apparel, including socks, coats, sleepwear, swimwear, headwear, dresses, pants, scarves and undergarments.
FN has reached out to Nike for comment.