2022 has only just begun, but there’s already a new legal battle brewing between two fitness titans.
Nike Inc. accused Lululemon Athletica Inc. of patent infringement related to its at-home Mirror fitness device and other apps in a new lawsuit filed Wednesday. The complaint, filed in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan, alleges that Lululemon infringed on six of Nike’s patents. It also comes during another likely boom for at-home fitness as COVID-19 cases rise sharply.
At the core of Nike’s argument is the claim that it owns trademark rights to certain “digital sport technologies.” Nike says this ownership can be traced back as far as 1983, when the company filed a patent application on a device that measures the speed, distance, time and calories expended for a runner. Since then, Nike says the apps and technologies in its “digital ecosystem” are crucial to the company’s success and competitive position in the market.
Nike argues that these digital elements, which include computerized activity, heart rate monitoring, wearable movement tracking devices, activity sensors, and the gamification of physical exertion, are being unfairly used by its Mirror device, an in-home fitness tool that Lululemon acquired for $500 million in 2020.
Nike did not respond to FN’s request for comment.
According to a Lululemon spokesperson, “The patents in question are overly broad and invalid.” Still, the lawsuit highlights an area of technology-related trademark law that could alter brand behavior moving forward.
If Nike prevails in its case, Lululemon could face major challenges for Mirror, which it only acquired two years ago. The interactive mirror workout platform, which features live and on-demand classes, was considered a strong buy for Lululemon at the time, as more people turned to at-home workouts at the start of the pandemic.
At the present moment, Anand said it is difficult to see how strong Nike’s legal argument actually is without fully understanding how the technology works.
“It will take a significant amount of time and discovery for the the parties to work through the case and convince the court either way,” Anand said.
Mirror launched in 2018, so it is questionable why Nike only recently decided to pursue legal avenues. According to Anand, recent updates to the software might have made the claim relevant. Or perhaps, as another expert suggested, Nike could potentially feel pressured by Lululemon’s dominance in the lifestyle and yoga categories.
According to Liza Amlani, principal and founder of consulting company Retail Strategy Group and a strategist who previously worked brands such as Ralph Lauren and Nike, the Swoosh’s latest suit represents an effort to go all-in on the key sector that it knows it owns: connected commerce and digital engagement.
“This is where they can shed light to the fact they are number one,” Amlani said. “And by going after Lululemon, they are creating buzz and will come out on top and possibly with their own version of Mirror.”