New Balance is back in court defending its “N” trademark.
The Boston-based business, coming off a $3.9 million win against Fujian-based shoe maker New Barlun earlier this year, filed a trademark infringement complaint against Michael Kors Wednesday.
New Balance alleged recent Michael Kors footwear—specifically, its Pippin and Olympia models—use an “N” design that is “confusingly similar” to its own protected trademark. The use of the “N,” the lawsuit claimed, “is likely to cause confusion among consumers and/or suggest an affiliation, connection, or association between New Balance” and the Capri-owned luxury brand. The company further alleged the use of the “N” constitutes a false designation of origin and is likely to dilute its own “N” trademark.
The company argued that Michael Kors must have known of its rights to the mark, in part because of the logo’s “fame,” but also because of the brand’s namesake’s known affinity for the shoe. The lawsuit cites Kors telling Harper’s Bazaar, “I probably have a good 15 pairs of New Balance in black.”
Given Kors’ association with New Balance sneakers and both brands’ history of collaborations, the lawsuit contends that consumers might conclude Michael Kors’ latest sneakers were authorized by the athletic firm.
“Had New Balance authorized [Michael Kors] to design special edition products, it might have been a highly successful collaboration—like New Balance’s collaborations with J. Crew, Jaden Smith, Casablanca, Kith, atmos, Louis De Guzman, Todd Snyder, and others,” the suit said. “New Balance, however, never authorized or licensed [Michael Kors] to use its trademarks.”
New Balance’s lawsuit calls for the court to enjoin Michael Kors from using the “N” design or any derivative thereof; recall all products bearing the “N” that have been manufactured, sold and/or distributed; and order the destruction of all existing products and advertising materials.
The suit comes seven months after New Balance won its case against New Barlun and followed other recent successes in its battle against Chinese infringers. In 2019, the Pudong New Area People’s Court in Shanghai awarded the company $1.5 million in an unfair competition suit against New Barlun. In 2017, another Chinese court ruled that three other domestic shoemakers— Zheng Chaozhong, Xin Ping Heng Sporting Goods Limited Company and Bo Si Da Ke Trading Limited—had infringed on New Balance’s signature “N.” The footwear brand won $1.5 million.
New Balance appears to have been less successful in one of its more recent U.S. legal battles. In August 2019, it sued Nautica and its parent company, Authentic Brands Group (ABG), which just agreed to acquire Reebok, for using the block-lettered “N” on the side of a shoe. Eight months later, the two businesses reached an undisclosed settlement, with both parties dismissing their claims and paying their own costs and attorneys’ fees, according to Footwear News.