Kawhi Leonard Accuses Nike Of Trying To Steal His Logo Via Trademark

from the from-downtown dept

As we’ve stated in previous posts, Nike has a reputation for jealously protecting its intellectual property, while also on occasion acting as though those same rules don’t apply to its actions. This isn’t terribly uncommon among those that treat IP concerns more severely: IP for me, but not for thee. Still, Nike does have some past examples of its own hypocrisy that are fairly glaring.

But nothing compares to the accusations against the company made by Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, who claims that Nike basically tried to trademark his logo design out from under him.

Kawhi Leonard has sued Nike, the apparel company with whom he recently ended an endorsement contract, over control of the “Klaw” logo used to identify his branded merchandise. Kawhi says he provided the logo to Nike, and that Nike’s claim to ownership of the logo is based upon an underhanded move to go to the United States Copyright Office and claim “authorship” and “rights and permissions” behind his back.

The lawsuit says that the “Klaw” logo marketed by Nike when they had Kawhi under contract was the product of Kawhi’s imagination, and was refined by Kawhi mostly without Nike’s participation, before he ever signed with the brand.

The lawsuit states that for the period of time in which Leonard was under Nike contract, everyone was in full agreement that the logo was his. Nike sought to alter the logo several times, but Leonard rejected those requests. In 2014, he did allow Nike to use the logo on its Kawhi Leonard merchandise, but only for as long as he was contracted for sponsorship with Nike. The acknowledgement of ownership went so far as Nike declining to pursue legal action against 3rd parties that used the logo, ostensibly at Leonard’s request.

It was only in 2018, when Leonard left Nike for a sponsorship deal with New Balance, that he discovered Nike had gone ahead and trademarked his logo in 2017 without his knowledge.

But Nike’s quiet registering of the logo in 2017 eventually came to Kawhi’s attention late in 2018, after Kawhi left Nike to sign with New Balance in November. Apparently Nike executive John Matterazzo sent Kawhi’s people a cease and desist letter the following month, asserting Nike’s ownership of the logo and demanding that it not be used on non-Nike merchandise.

You will remember, this is the logo that the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly looked into buying away from Nike as part of their anticipated courtship of Leonard this summer. The organization was apparently interested in passing along Nike’s ownership share of the logo to Kawhi as a condition of Kawhi jumping to the Clippers in free agency. Marc Stein reported then that Nike, meanwhile, “is intent on rebuffing all approaches and retaining its rights to that logo for as long as it can.”

Nike’s response to the lawsuit is going to be fascinating. Hearing the legal retort as to why the company has any trademark rights save what was in Leonard’s sponsorship contract ought to be interesting. As is, perhaps, why certain other IP rights to the logo shouldn’t apply, given Leonard’s claim that he created it, such as copyright. For a superstar like Kawhi Leonard, it seems absurd to think that such a detail in a sponsorship contract wouldn’t have been uncovered by his own legal representation prior to filing this lawsuit. It’s also beyond weird to have Leonard no longer be a Nike athlete, but to have Nike still utilize his logo that denotes his brand.

All of this is strange, but it’s also worth recalling the hypocrisy in all of this. Nike is aggressive, it seems, both in its enforcement of its own IP rights and in allegedly how it violates others’.

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Companies: new balance, nike

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Comments on “Kawhi Leonard Accuses Nike Of Trying To Steal His Logo Via Trademark”

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13 Comments
Killercool (profile) says:

It seems that things aren't quite as they appear...

Leonard did, indeed, come up with the "original" design, but the current version (the one in contention) isn’t the original. Nike kept sending him different versions of the logo, altered from the one he gave them, and it is one of those designs that is in use.

From what I understand of "derivative works," Nike can’t use it if they don’t have a license (I have no idea if they have or have had one), but as it is a derivative work that Nike created, Leonard sure as heck can’t use it without their permission. Effectively, the current version of the logo is dead. Leonard can’t take it, Nike can’t use it.

Long live copyright.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: It seems that things aren't quite as they appear...

  1. Leonard accepted one of the June 2014 proposals and granted Nike permission to affix that logo, based upon the Leonard Logo, on Nike merchandise during the term of the Nike Agreement.
  2. Further, Nike claimed that the Leonard Logo was authored in 2014 and first published on October 28, 2014.

From the guy’s own suit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It seems that things aren't quite as they appear...

I mean, without any additional details on the logo design there’s not much more we can say. The descriptions given in the suit are vague enough that they could encompass anything from Nike creating brand new logos inspired by the existing logo, all the way to Nike acting as a proofreading editor, although the most probable explanation seems to me that Nike performed tasks identical to that of a line editor. Should be interesting to watch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anyone surprised Nike does anything?

this is the company that executes child workers for ‘under performing’ or trying to escape, as an example to the others.

They have UK ‘fake’ offices in Sunderland that are empty, purely used via legal schemes for tax avoidance.

PLUS after all this, their products are poor quality, insanely expensive AND only worn by scum and sex offenders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hmm. I have a pair of Nike shoes I bought maybe 4 years ago. I wear them any day it’s not raining a lot and have worn these shoes traveling all over the world. They’re holding up just fine, still look good and still very comfortable. They didn’t cost more then $5 more than any other comparable shoe on the shelf.

Nobody has ever called me "scum" (that I know of, maybe in traffic) and I haven’t committed any sexual crimes.

It would seem you’re incorrect on your conclusion points.

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