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Puma Accuses Brooks of ‘Copying’ Its Foam Technology

The oft-litigious sneaker world has another heavyweight battle on its hands as Puma filed a trademark and patent infringement lawsuit against Brooks late last week.

The complaint, which accused Brooks of infringing on both a design patent and a pending trademark, also included suggestions that the running brand copied Puma’s patent-pending foam molding technology. These insinuations were not included in any of the complaint’s three causes of action.

Puma offered two explanations—both based on “information and belief” rather than hard evidence—for how Brooks supposedly came by its technology, including by allegedly “contact[ing] one of Puma’s manufacturers” and copying it.

Later, the German sneaker giant contended that Brooks lifted the technology from its utility patent applications, the first of which Puma submitted in January 2020. In late December that year, it noted, Brooks filed its own utility patent application. “The application’s written description and pending claims describe the same foam molding process that Puma uses in its Nitro-branded shoes,” the company alleged.

The meat of Puma’s complaint, however, centered on allegations of trademark and patent infringement.

The lawsuit’s trademark infringement claim focused on Brooks’ use of the word “nitro.” Though Brooks has not integrated the term into any of its products, as Puma has done, the complaint notes several instances where the brand has used “Nitro,” including at promotional events; on its website via the term “nitro-infuse;” and in its #RunOnNitro social media campaign.

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According to Puma’s lawsuit, the company sent Brooks a letter describing its “exclusive rights” to Nitro “in connection with footwear” in December of last year. Brooks “refused” the settlement terms and did not offer a counter-proposal, Puma said

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s records, Puma applied for its “Nitro” trademark in December 2021, the same month it messaged Brooks. Puma SE filed for two other Nitro-related trademarks in January 2020, both for the term “Nitrofoam.” One, which covers “footwear, namely, training shoes, running shoes, sports and leisure shoes” and “soles for footwear,” was registered in March 2021. The other, which would cover soccer and basketball shoes and “inner soles,” has not yet been registered.

Puma’s lawsuit further alleged that Brooks’ Aurora BL sneaker infringes on one of its design patents. Issued by the USPTO in September 2020, the patent depicts a midsole structure made up of a series of three bulbous units. The Aurora BL features a similar series—four instead of three—of rounded midsole units. According to Puma, the design results “in an overall appearance that is substantially the same in the eyes of the ordinary observer.”

Puma alleged that Brooks' Aurora BL sneaker infringed on one of its design patents
Puma alleged that Brooks’ Aurora BL sneaker infringed on one of its design patents. Puma

Brooks has denied Puma’s claims and accused its competitor of “abusing trademark law by seeking to prevent competitors from using the term “nitro” to describe nitro-infused shoes.”

“Brooks is not infringing any of Puma’s intellectual property, and all of Puma’s allegations are baseless,” the company said in a statement.

Puma introduced its first Nitro running shoes in March 2021. At the time, it framed the launch as a way to “start to expand” its presence in distance and road running. Puma’s Nitro foam served as the centerpiece of the new running range. The material, to be used in all Puma’s performance running offerings moving from there on out, uses a higher-grade raw material and supercritical nitrogen to create a foam that is about 50 percent lighter than traditional EVA foam while maintaining the same responsiveness, according to Todd Falker, the company’s senior product line manager.