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New Balance and Nautica Clash Over Block-Lettered ‘N’ in New Lawsuit

New Balance named Nautica and its parent company, Authentic Brands Group (ABG), in its latest lawsuit aimed at protecting the Made-in-America footwear brand’s famous block-lettered “N.”

The Boston brand brought the fight to its home court, filing the lawsuit in a District Court of Massachusetts. In the filing, New Balance claims that Nautica’s infringement is evidence of the brand’s intent to “free ride” on New Balance’s influence.

New Balance said that it began using the block “N” on its products since the 1970s when it released its “320” model sneaker. Since then, New Balance has used the mark in advertising and product design—spending “well over” $100 million a year on marketing “the vast majority of which is used toward marketing and advertising that incorporates the Block N Mark.”

“Nautica’s intentional adoption of a block letter ‘N’ on footwear and apparel is likely to cause confusion among consumers and/or suggest an affiliation, connection, or association between New Balance and Nautica,” New Balance wrote in the complaint. “Nautica’s use of a block letter ‘N’ is likely to dilute the distinctive source-identifying quality of the famous Block N Marks. Nautica’s use of a block letter ‘N’ also constitutes unfair competition.”

Overall, the brand says that there are currently around 96 million pairs of shoes bearing the mark in the more than 68 countries in which it operates.

New Balance affirmed that it owns federally registered and “incontestable” trademarks associated with the block capital letter “N” but it will be up to the court to decide whether Nautica’s products constitute infringement, barring a settlement.

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In 2017, New Balance was awarded $1.5 million in damages for a similar trial levied against three Chinese brands that were found to have illegally copied its designs.

Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Nautica and ABG are currently selling a sneaker that violates one of New Balance’s design patents, notably the design of its successful “247” sneakers. New Balance has sold close to 2 million pairs of the 247, released in 2017, in North America.

New Balance and Nautica battle in court over design patents
The New Balance “247” compared to the Nautica “Packer” Courtesy of Filing

New Balance claims that Nautica copied the design of its popular sneaker and then sold it in the same markets, including digital outlets like Amazon, for a lower price tag—averaging around $30 compared to the typical range of between $60 and $100 for a New Balance 247.

By bringing the case to a court in Massachusetts, one of the markets that it shares with Nautica, New Balance will look to receive both damages and the court’s assurance that Nautica will be forced to stop selling the infringing products.

“Nautica’s conduct has and will irreparably harm New Balance and its substantial goodwill,” the complaint read. It also has and will cause monetary harm in an amount to be determined at trial.”

At the time of writing, Nautica had yet to respond to the complaint.