from the just-sue-it dept
Sometimes you turn out to be wrong. When we initially discussed Kawhi Leonard’s lawsuit against Nike over the “Klaw” logo, I’d said I was interested to hear Nike’s response. That was because my glance at Leonard’s description of the history of the logo, one which he created in rough draft form when he was young to one which Nike used as inspiration for the eventual Nike Kawhi shoe logo, it sure seemed like Nike was being hypocritical. After all, Nike has a reputation for being extremely protective of its own intellectual property rights while being rather cavalier with those of others. As a reminder, Leonard created a logo that makes something of a “K” and “L” outlined via the tracing of his own hand. It sure seemed that if that all wasn’t unique enough that Nike shouldn’t be trying to trademark a version of the logo from under him, what could be?
Well, a U.S. District Judge in Oregon appears to disagree. And, given some of the side by side comparisons that Nike brought in its response… perhaps he has a point.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that the logo Nike designers helped create with Leonard marked an “independent piece of intellectual property’’ that was distinct from the original sketch Leonard initially conceived and shared with Nike.
“It’s not merely a derivative work of the sketch itself,’’ the judge ruled from the bench after an hour of oral argument held by phone as well as multiple briefs filed in the case. “I do find it to be new and significantly different from the design.”
Here is Leonard’s rough draft side by side with the Nike logo.
Are they creatively different. Yes, I think that’s fair. But the real problem here is that Leonard’s entire use of the logo in commerce appears to be his deal with Nike.
Still, it sure feels like this logo, on a Nike shoe or not, is associated in the public’s eye as much or more with Kawhi Leonard as Nike. Yeah, there are creative differences in the designs as drawn above. But one sure feels to me to be derivative of the other. And, yet, Leonard’s lawyers argued the exact opposite.
One of Leonard’s lawyers, Mitchell C. Stein, urged the judge to view Leonard’s initial sketch and the final logo as “one and the same.”
Leonard isn’t claiming ownership of a derivative work. “We’re claiming ownership of the logo Leonard created,’’ Stein told the court.
“The KL, the No. 2 and the hand as expressed by Mr. Leonard in his sketch and as modified is the protectable element that appears in the Nike Klaw,” Stein argued.
That… feels like a stretch. And the court apparently thought likewise, having sided with Nike and stating clearly that the two logos were definitely not “one and the same.”
As stated on the record, I GRANT the motion with respect to Defendant Nike’s ownership of the Claw Design. As a result, and because amendment of the complaint would be futile, I DISMISS Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.
And that should be the end of that. Frankly, I’m, again, a little surprised in this case, because it just… doesn’t all feel as cut and dry as the ruling would suggest. Nike had an endorsement contract with Leonard, the clear author of an original logo for which Nike created an a derivative logo… and yet this all ends with Nike getting the all clear? The same as though it had created this logo whole cloth? And to what end? Leonard is no longer a Nike athlete. So Nike gets that logo and he has shoes elsewhere?
Like I said: messy.