Nike sue OneMix: A Tapestry of Alleged Infringement

Nike sue OneMix: Image of a Nike trainer on a red background.
Nike sue OneMix: A Tapestry of Alleged Infringement

Nike sue OneMix: Background

On 26 February 2019, athletics giant Nike filed a lawsuit against Chinese footwear producer OneMix in the United States district court in the northern district of Illinois.

The claim brought by Nike alleged a number of alleged infringements on the part of OneMix – which are explored in further detail within this post.

OneMix was accused to not competing fairly by offering its own footwear designs that closely resembled Nike IP protected products.

In their pleadings the American giant brought to the attention of the Court that experts in the footwear industry have been aware of OneMix’s bad practices for some time.

Along with this, Nike consumers conceive similarity between the designs of both brands – evidence of this had been widely found upon different sales channels that the brand uses (e.g. Amazon).

Below one instance is provided which demonstrates the high degree of similarity demonstrated in certain OneMix products, that Nike sought to bring to the attention of the Court.

Nike sue OneMix: Image of a Nike shoe,   showing the side of the shoe and the tread.

Nike sue OneMix: Image of a OneMix shoe, showing the side of the shoe and the tread. It is highly similar to the previous Nike shoe, in colour, design and shape.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the evidence provided by Nike, was the scope of infringement – which not only alleged similarity in design, but also in use of trade marks.

Usage of registered marks including “Air Max”, “Flywire” or “Flyknit” were found to be used by OneMix in various instances to promote their sales.

The example given above give pause for thought in what at a glance appears to be a remarkable case of multitudinous IP infringement. But what grounds

Nike’s Registered Design

Registered designs protect the external shape and, in certain cases, adornment and decoration of a product of the product. In the USA, there are analogous rights known as design patents.

Design rights give their owner the right to stop anyone copying the external design of their product, within the geographical jurisdiction they are registered. In the UK and EU designs can receive protection if they are unregistered – but it is important to register the design, as this gives a more substantial recourse.

In this case, NIKE sought to enforce several registered design patents – such as those shown below. They provided evidence that OneMix had infringed them thus violating the laws about designs.

Further to this, Nike stated that OneMix were wilfully aware of this infringement and decided to continue with the: manufacture, use, promotion, distribution and sale in the United States.

The lower price-point offered by OneMix in such a case may be a consequence of using a design without having to have paid for the research and development that underpins the innovation.

Table from Nike's submissions to the District Court of Illinois comparing OneMix's shoes to Nike's design patents.

Nike’s Trade Marks

Further to the high degree of similarity in the designs, Nike accused OneMix of using Nike’s registered trademarks.

A trademark can be any name, word, symbol, slogan, or device that serves to both identify and distinguish a business or product from others in the market. Nike stated that OneMix unjustified use of the their trademarks – “Air Max”, “Flywire” and “Flyknit” was causing economic damages for US company.

“Air Max” was registered in the year 1988, “Flywire” in 2009 and the last, “FlyKnit” that was registered in the year 2013. As a result of continuous and long-standing promotion, substantial sales, and consumer recognition since registration – it can be argued that Nike has developed powerful reputation and goodwill in these marks.

This reputation, for a company as globally recognised as Nike is not to be overlooked. For example:

  • Trademarks are an effective communication tool. For example, “Air Max” as a mark is recognised globally, regardless of whether the native language is: Swahili, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Arabic or English.
  • Trademarks are an asset. Trademarks appreciate over time. The more reputation grows in a mark, the more valuable these brands become. However, use of the mark in relation to substandard or non authentic goods can damage the same brand.
  • Nike trademarks inspire positive feelings in people’s minds. As a result, products are more attractive to clients.

OneMix, without the authorization of NIKE, in deciding to promote distribute and sell footwear using the Nike trademarks through distributors such as Amazon, Ebay or AliExpress – adversely impact Nike’s ability to benefit from it’s brand.

The consequences for Nike are numerous among them are the commercial losses. As such, Nike are justified and compelled to enforce their monopoly over use of these registered marks.

Image of a OneMix shoe (same as before) on a listing on Amazon. It shoes that OneMix had uses "Air Max" as part of the listing, a Nike registered trade mark.

Nike sue OneMix: A Conclusion

Oftentimes when infringement occurs it can be argued to be incidental or not exhibiting a questionable amount of similarity.

What is striking about this particular case is the:

  • Amount of instances of alleged infringement
  • Combination of both trade marks and designs

At a glance, this is expressive of a highly concerted effort to reproduce Nike’s designs – which is remarkable for a manufacturer of OneMix’s size.

Nike claims a series of losses that are incalculable – and considering the proximity of OneMix’s products to those of Nike, they may be justified in doing so.

Thankfully, Nike, as a global organisation has robustly protected the IP in question – allowing the company to seek the most comprehensive recourse. Should they have failed to register these critical assets – they might have had less capacity to defend their innovations.

As in all cases, a proactive attitude to IP creation and protection will ensure that Nike’s losses are minimised; and that any damage that has been felt can be reimbursed.

Nike sue OneMix: A Tapestry of Alleged Infringement was written by Oscar Guardo and edited by Dr. Martin Hendry


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