Shoe wars – Nike sues Puma for patent infringement

Shoe wars – Nike sues Puma for patent infringement

Patents protect inventions.  In the United States, and many other nations, an inventor can request a patent on their invention.  To be granted a patent the inventor must file a patent application with the United States patent and Trademark Office and demonstrate that the invention meets the requirements to be granted a patent.  The patent application must show that the invention is novel, nonobvious, and useful.  If the United States patent and Trademark office grants the patent application the inventor is granted a monopoly on the inventor for a period of time.  If someone other than the owner of the patent attempts to make use or sell the invention while the patent is in force than the patent owner can sue for patent infringement.  In a patent infringement lawsuit a a patent owner can request an injunction to stop infringement and sue for monetary damages for infringement which has occurred.

If an invention meets the requirements of United States patent law, than the invention may be protected by a patent.  Some people believe that to have a successful product first you need to get a patent on it, other people believe that it is best to make a great product then get patents on the aspects of the product that make it great. Companies will frequently develop a product a file multiple patents to cover different aspects of the product.  This is allowed under United States patent law.  Building a portfolio of patents can be expensive, but it is an effective way to defend your product from competitors who would seek to copy your product.

Take for example the case of NIKE, INC. v. PUMA NORTH AMERICA, INC. 1:18-cv-10876 (D. Mass. 2018).  Both Nike and Puma are successful athletic apparel manufacturers.  Nike has developed and patented a number of different inventions related to shoes.  Nike believes that Puma’s shoes infringe on the patents which are owned by Nike.  Specifically Nike claims that Puma is infringing on four utility patents related to the fabric uppers, one utility patent related to the sole cushion and 2 utility patents related the cleats.  Nike filed suit in Massachusetts Federal District Court to get an injunction preventing Puma from selling the infringing products, monetary damages for infringement, enhanced damages and attorney’s fees.

This case is noteworthy because of the patent portfolio Nike accumulated on shoes.  In it’s complaint, Nike states that it owns over 300 utility patents on the fabric uppers, 800 utility patents on the sole cushion and 200 utility patents on the cleats.  That is over 1300 patents on just 3 aspects of a shoe.  That is an astonishing number of patents on a simple article of clothing.  Nike only claims that Puma infringed on seven of the 1300 patents, but when someone has that many utility patents it seems difficult to not infringe.

Puma has not responded to Nike’s complain yet, it will be interesting to see how Puma attempts to defend itself.

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