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New Balance Sues Steve Madden in Sneaker Spat

New Balance sued Steve Madden for allegedly copying a sneaker style that’s found a devoted following among A-list celebrities including Naomi Watts, Katie Holmes and Kendall Jenner.

A complaint filed Tuesday in a Massachusetts federal court claims that Steve Madden’s 2021 Chasen sneaker release infringes on  New Balance‘s intellectual property. The shoe resembles New Balance’s 327 model, which “quickly” became one of the brand’s “most popular and best-selling shoe models” after it arrived in 2020, the Boston-based athletic company said in the design patent, trademark infringement and unfair competition lawsuit.

New Balance said it sold sold several million pairs of the 327 in the year following its launch amid Vogue, GQ and Sneaker Freaker saying the athletically styled shoe “conquered the fashion scene.” It has worked with Los Angeles label Staud to further cement the 327’s status in style circles.

“Madden’s motive for copying the design of New Balance’s 327 is not difficult to discern,” it said, adding that Chasen’s “brazen” design is “a deliberate knock-off intended to free-ride off of the popularity of New Balance’s 327.”  Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Amazon, an increasingly important partner for New Balance, sell the Steve Madden sneaker in question.

New Balance accused Steve Madden of routinely ripping off footwear brands. “[It] appears that copying the designs of other shoe manufacturers is standard operating procedure for Madden, and it has been sued for misappropriating the creative designs of competitors more than a dozen times in recent years,” it claimed.

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For example, Skechers sued for copyright infringement in 2015 when Steve Madden released a sneaker style that resembled its woven Go Walk style. Two years later, Allbirds accused the company of trade dress infringement for bringing to market a product that resembled its wool runner sneaker.

The New Balance 327 model, left, and the Steve Madden Chasen sneaker, right.
The New Balance 327 model, left, and the Steve Madden Chasen sneaker, right. New Balance

In a 2019 Rothy’s dispute, Steve Madden countered a cease-and-desist letter with a pre-emptive lawsuit, asking a federal court to rule that its Rosy shoe didn’t unfairly copy design elements from the Bay Area brand’s 3D-knitted Point ballet flat. Ugg ultimately settled with Steve Madden after claiming in a 2020 lawsuit that the latter ripped off its Fluff Yeah slipper-sandals.

“This is yet another example of Madden stealing the creative work of its competitors and trading off of their goodwill,” New Balance wrote in its complaint.

The company asked the Massachusetts District Court to force Steve Madden to stop selling the Chasen, which it said violates numerous New Balance design trademarks. It’s also asking for damages or the proceeds from Chasen’s sales.

New Balance recently found success in its complaint against an activewear startup whose name it found too similar to its own, ultimately forcing the label to rebrand. The sneaker giant, meanwhile, has found itself in court on more than one occasion over its Made in America claims.