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Adidas and Nike Lock Horns Over Tech

Adidas escalated its long-running Nike rivalry Friday, suing its fellow sneaker giant in federal court for patent infringement.

The German sportswear company, which Nike sued for patent infringement in December, claimed its competitor’s Adapt footwear technology and Run Club, Training Club and SNKRS apps together infringe on nine of its patents. Adidas alleged the infringement was “willful and deliberate.”

Adidas’ complaint centered around a series of patents issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office between 2007 and 2019. Runtastic, a health and fitness app Adidas bought in 2015, is the exclusive licensee of five of these patents.

Six of the company’s patent infringement claims focus on the Nike Run Club (NRC) app, including one which also mentions the Nike Training Club (NTC) app. These allegedly infringed-upon patents include two that describe technologies for tracking the route of a fitness activity.

Adidas noted that the patent examiner initially rejected the first of these “route tracking patents” as “obvious,” but approved it six months later after the company amended its application. In 2015, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) denied a petition from Under Armour challenging the patent’s validity. It was subjected to another reexamination in 2016, which it also passed. A patent examiner also initially rejected the second of the route tracking patents, but cleared it months later.

Another two patents describe technology for creating training plans and fitness tracking. The patent examiner rejected the first multiple times, including for being “anticipated” and “obvious,” but approved it after a fourth amendment from Adidas.

The company additionally alleged Nike infringed on two so-called “audio feedback patents.” In both cases, the examiner initially rejected its application, but later allowed it.

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Adidas also argued that Nike’s SNKRS app infringes on a “product launch patent” entitled “systems and techniques for computer-enabled geo-targeted product reservation for secure and authenticated online reservations.” Though the company initially filed its application in 2015, the examiner only issued a notice of allowance in December 2018. The lawsuit does not note if the patent was initially rejected and if Adidas amended its application within that three-year span.

The final two patents Adidas claimed Nike infringed upon relate to technology for controlling articles of footwear. Adidas alleged that Nike’s Adapt line of products infringe on the two patents, which the USPTO issued in 2007 and 2012.

Adidas argued that each of the applications leading to these nine patents underwent a “thorough examination,” including when many were initially rejected by the patent examiner.

It further contended that Nike was aware of its patents, pointing out that the company cited seven of the nine patents in its own patents. Adidas also argued that Nike was aware of “widely reported” litigation between it and Under Armour and Asics.

Adidas, which has requested a jury trial, asked the court for a permanent injunction and damages.

Nike filed its own patent infringement complaint against Adidas in December. The suit alleged the company infringed on nine separate patents related to the Swoosh brand’s Flyknit knitted material. It followed multiple failed attempts by Adidas to invalidate the Flyknit patents. In January, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) granted Nike’s request for an investigation into its claims. The company is seeking a limited exclusion order and cease-and-desist orders. The USITC noted in January that it had “not yet made any decision on the merits of the case.”

Sotheby’s “40 for 40” Nike auction

Meanwhile, Nike is also at the center of a 40-piece auction Sotheby’s launched Wednesday.

Entitled “40 for 40,” the collection arrives as Nike, now in its 50th year, celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Air Force 1. Launched in 1982 as a basketball sneaker, the now-iconic style was nearly discontinued but for the intervention of three sneaker boutiques in Baltimore. The stores, which had witnessed the shoe’s popularity locally, convinced Nike to reintroduce the Air Force 1 exclusively at their stores, Sotheby’s said.

As the style rose to prominence, particularly within the hip-hop community, Nike began releasing collaborations with some of the genre’s biggest names. In 2007, Nike unveiled a luxury Air Force 1 made with crocodile skin. A decade later, it celebrated the shoe’s 35th anniversary by collaborating with five designers, including Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, who would the next year take on the mantle of artistic director for Louis Vuitton Men’s.

Before Abloh died of cancer in November, the designer created an expansive collection of Louis Vuitton-branded Air Force 1s for the luxury label’s Spring/Summer 2022 menswear collection. Sotheby’s auctioned off 200 pairs of the first of these 47 colorways earlier this year. Though the brokerage gave every pair an estimated value of $5,000 to $15,000, no pair sold for less than $75,000. One pair sold for $352,800.

Scheduled to close June 21, Sotheby’s 40 for 40 collection includes “ultra-rare samples” and autographed pairs. So far, nearly half of the lots have received an opening bid, including five which are at $10,000 or higher. A size 9 pair of the Louis Vuitton x Nike colorway Sotheby’s auctioned off this past winter currently has the highest bid, $110,000.