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Nike Sued Adidas. Here’s What’s at Stake.

After nearly a decade of back-and-forth legal fights between Nike and Adidas over the former’s Flyknit patents, Nike has formally asked the U.S. International Trade Commission to block the import of its competitor’s Primeknit footwear.

The request, filed Wednesday, asks the commission to open an investigation into Adidas and issue a limited-exclusion order and cease-and-desist orders against the German giant regarding footwear products Nike claims infringe on its Flyknit patents. Since Adidas introduced its first Primeknit shoe in 2012, it has expanded the technology across a wide swath of styles, perhaps most notably within its family of Ultraboost running shoes.

The same day Nike sent its request to the commission, it also filed a complaint in federal court alleging Adidas infringed upon nine separate patents. The suit identifies four dozen products as “examples of the infringing products,” including 18 variations on Adidas’ Ultraboost sneaker, as well as multiple variations of its Terrex Free Hiker hiking shoes and X Speedflow+ cleats.

Nike unveiled its first Flyknit style in February 2012 “after more than a decade of research and development and an investment of more than $100 million,” according to the lawsuit it filed Wednesday. The technology uses high-strength fibers to create lightweight, single-piece uppers with targeted areas of support, stretch and breathability. Since Flyknit uses yarn that is made of recycled materials, it has come to represent an “important part” of Nike’s sustainability efforts, it added. Adidas introduced its first Primeknit style five months after Nike’s inaugural Flyknit sneaker.

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Though Nike’s suit alleges Adidas forewent “independent innovation,” a 2019 blog post from retailer JD Sports presents a different story. According to that account, the idea for Primeknit originated in 2010 when members of the company’s footwear development team were inspired by a knitted glove they saw at a textile fair in Germany.

Though Nike claims to own more than 300 issued utility patents related to its Flyknit technology, its lawsuit only specifically refers to nine of these. The first of these was issued in Oct. 2010. The most recent patent was issued in March 2018.

In the years since Nike introduced its Flyknit technology, Adidas has filed multiple challenges to Nike’s patents. In two cases that Nike calls out in its lawsuit, Adidas allegedly threatened to attempt to invalidate the patents if Nike did not provide it with a covenant not to sue. Nike said it refused to agree to Adidas’ request, after which point its competitor filed challenges with the U.S. Patent Office. It eventually lost those challenges, but did not stop releasing Primeknit footwear. Both patents are among those Nike claims were infringed.

Nike, however, has not won every battle. In the United States, it is still fighting to defend its original application in what it described as “the Knitted Textile Upper Family”—the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Nike the patent in 2008, four years after its initial application. In Germany, meanwhile, courts rejected Nike’s attempt to sue Adidas for infringing on that specific patent and instead have revoked the German portion of Nike’s European patent.

“We are currently analyzing the complaint and will defend ourselves against the allegations,” an Adidas spokesperson said. “Our Primeknit technology resulted from years of dedicated research and shows our commitment to sustainability.”

Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment.