New Balance Athletics Inc. filed a trademark lawsuit yesterday in a Boston court alleging that Michael Kors USA Inc. infringed on the athletic brand’s “N” trademark.
The lawsuit asserts that Michael Kors, owned by Capri Holdings Ltd., recently began selling its Pippin and Olympia sneaker styles using “a prominent N design that is confusingly similar to the famous New Balance N Marks.”
New Balance has been using the N on its shoes since the 1970s, when it introduced the 320 style. Since then, the company has sold hundreds of millions of pairs of shoes with N marks, representing billions of dollars in revenue, the lawsuit noted.
The athletic brand owns several federal trademarks for the letter N on footwear. “The marks are famous and embody an enormous amount of goodwill — they are among the company’s most valuable asset,” the lawsuit said.
New Balance said in a statement, “While New Balance respects and values industry competition, Michael Kors’ use of the ‘N’ design on sneakers infringes on the ‘N’ trademarks New Balance has exclusively owned and used for decades. New Balance is recognized as one of the top athletic brands in the world and we go to great lengths to protect our intellectual property.”
Regarding Kors’ Pippin shoe specifically, the lawsuit said that “consumer confusion is a near certainty because the Michael Kors N design appears in a virtually identical commercial context; namely, incorporated into the saddle of a shoe design that strongly evokes the New Balance 574 Trade Dress.” (In addition to its N trademarks, New Balance owns trade dress rights for the 574 model, the lawsuit said, noting that the brand is on track to sell 7 million pairs of the iconic style this year.)
The lawsuit also pointed out that Michael Kors’ namesake, who just celebrated his brand’s 40th anniversary, is a longtime fan of New Balance. It features passages from several press outlets that have featured Kors talking about his affinity for the brand. For example, Vogue has written that “It’s a rare occasion you see Michael Kors out of his trusty New Balance sneakers.”
Capri Holdings did not respond to a request for comment.