Vans has become the latest footwear player to sue Walmart for ripping off its designs.
Filed Monday, the skate brand’s complaint accuses the mega-retailer of selling more than 20 “blatant knockoff versions of Vans shoes.” The lawsuit, which also named The Doll Maker, LLC and Trendy Trading, LLC, alleged trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin.
The suit follows similar litigation from multiple major footwear players. In July, Crocs sued Walmart—and a range of other retailers, including Loeffler Randall and Hobby Lobby—for trademark infringement and unfair competition, among other things. In June, Yeezy, the popular footwear brand run by Ye—the Grammy-winning artist commonly known as Kanye West—filed an unfair competition complaint against Walmart for hosting a “cheap knock-off” of its popular Foam Runner clog. Last fall, Ugg accused the retailer of trade dress infringement and unfair competition for selling footwear it alleged was “confusingly similar” to its own Fluff Yeah slides.
Vans’ complaint included images of 19 of its own sneakers alongside images of the alleged “knockoff” shoes sold by Walmart via its in-house Time and Tru, Wonder Nation and No Boundaries labels. The suit also highlighted several styles sold by Walmart from third-party footwear designer, manufacturer, distributor and seller The Doll Maker. According to Vans, Trendy Trading—the third and last entity named in the complaint—sells or has sold these shoes to Walmart and other retailers.
“We respect intellectual property rights of others and take these allegations seriously,” a Walmart spokesperson said. “We will review the complaint once we have been served with it and will respond as appropriate with the court.”
Vans said it discovered Walmart’s “misappropriation” in March in connection with a single Time and Tru style and “immediately” reached out with a cease and desist letter. According to the lawsuit, Walmart refused to address Vans concerns and instead “introduced an avalanche of additional knockoff shoes” in the months after.
The complaint highlighted multiple similarities between Walmart’s shoes and its Old Skool and Sk8-Hi sneakers. In both cases, it took issue with the use of a decorative design that it claimed imitates its own side-stripe trademark. Though Walmart’s design is ultimately different—it turns sharply at the front-end of the shoe and ends at the sidewall—the brand insisted that it is confusingly similar and that it “copies at least two-thirds” of its own mark.
Vans also called out the use of a rubberized sidewall with a consistent height around the perimeter of the shoe, a three-tiered or grooved design around the uppermost portion of the sidewall, a textured toe box outer around the front of the sidewall, and visible stitching—all elements it claims as part of the silhouettes’ trade dress.
In the case of the alleged Old Skool knockoffs, Vans asserted that Walmart’s shoes infringed on a specific trademark it owns covering the Old Skool’s stitching pattern. That the Walmart shoes appear to copy exact color schemes used by Vans—as well as the “overall shape” and silhouette of the shoes—confirms the retailer’s intent to copy, the suit added.
Vans further sought to establish Walmart’s intent to deceive by arguing the retailer had taken additional steps to associate itself and its infringing shoes with Vans, including by allegedly using Google AdWords and other advertising methods to return links to its own products when someone searches for “Walmart” and “Vans” together. Searches on Walmart’s own website for “Vans” or “Walmart Vans” return results for actual Vans footwear.
Walmart appears to employ the same technique for other brands’ footwear. Searching for “Walmart Crocs,” for example, returns an ad result for the Time and Tru EVA clogs mentioned in Crocs’ lawsuit. The strategy is hardly unique to Walmart, however. Searches for “Old Navy Vans” and “Target Vans” will produce links to pages for the retailers’ generic takes on the skate brand’s slip-on sneaker. Unlike with Walmart, neither produce results for shoes bearing a design resembling Vans’ trademarked side-stripe design.
Vans’ lawsuit demanded that Walmart be enjoined from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, distributing or selling the infringing footwear; that it deliver up for impoundment and destruction all infringing footwear and related materials; and that Walmart provide Vans with any and all profits derived from its alleged infringements, as well as damages.