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’.