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Vans Files Patent Infringement Suit Over “Fakes” Found at Target

“I love my fake Vans!” reads a review still posted on Target’s website, directly underneath the product page of what Vans, Inc. now alleges is a knockoff sneaker that infringes on the patent for its “Old Skool” line of footwear.

Vans, Inc. cited that review and other evidence in a 38-page complaint delivered to California’s Central District Court Thursday. Vans’ lawyers demand that Target immediately be forced to stop selling the infringing footwear, destroy the remaining stock and return all profits—including money from sales missed as a result of the infringement—to Vans, Inc.

Vans’ Old Skool shoe was originally created in 1977, the company says, and is a traditional leather sneaker from that era. Its one defining feature is a side stripe that Vans says was a doodle by the founder of the company, Paul Van Loren.

Target’s shoe, which it calls the “Camella Lace Up Sneaker” features a similar stripe, although it is straighter and curves all the way back onto the heel of the shoe. Target’s sneaker is also only available in black, much like the classic Vans sneaker in question.

Currently, the Camella Lace Up Sneaker is on sale for $15 on Target’s website, although availability is limited. Vans sells its Old Skool sneakers for $60 through its website, stores and typical distributors.

The alleged knockoff is part of Target’s Wild Fable line, a collection Target designed and marketed to appeal to a younger generation of women. Van’s claims that Target used its cachet with that demographic to “lend unwarranted and instant credibility” to Wild Fable and therefore collect sales the company might have otherwise received.

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Vans’ complaint said the infringement was driven “not only by the extreme popularity of Vans’ Old Skool Shoe,” summarily described as a top-selling shoe among millennial and Generation Z women, but also by “a desire to misappropriate Vans’ reputation.”

In the complaint, Vans describes that reputation as a “long history of…being authentic and connected to pop-culture, street culture, and youth culture,” and that marketing a shoe so similar is likely to lead to confusion in the marketplace. As evidence, Vans cited various online interactions consumers had been having regarding the “fake Vans,” including a fashion blogger on Youtube that reviewed Target’s product and directly referred to the shoes as “Vans knockoffs” while admitting the lower price and similar appearance was the primary reason she had wished to purchase the shoes.

Additionally, Vans cited a Piper Jaffray study that found the footwear company was the third most-cited trend among teens and the top-ranked footwear brand among female upper-income teens, a group that is well-represented in Target’s Wild Fable promotional materials.

Lawyers say they fear that any goodwill the brand has created among the demographic will be harmed by “confusingly similar imitations” created by the impression that Vans, itself, sponsored or endorsed the product.