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New Trademark Lawsuit Pits Brooks Versus Brooks

What’s in a name? Brooks Running and Brooks Brothers are going to court to find out.

Brooks Sports Inc., also known as the Brooks Running Company, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Washington alleging premium apparel retailer Brooks Brothers has infringed upon its established brand trademarks, including the ownership of marketing rights for the word “Brooks.”

On Dec. 30, Brooks Brothers filed a trademark application that sought to register “Brooks” for the purpose of marketing apparel, sporting goods, athletic accessories and retail stores. However, the registration stopped short of footwear, despite Brooks Brothers offering footwear products, including “sporty sneakers.”

The case for Brooks Sports hinges on recent attempts Brooks Brothers has made to enter into the performance-inspired footwear, apparel and accessories market with a “bona fide intent” to expand its presence there. Brooks Sports claims this is being done with trademarks and branding that have real potential to confuse consumers in the arenas in which both companies operate.

Brooks Sports Inc. is taking Brooks Brothers to court for trademark infringement due to the suit-maker blocking Brooks Sports' attempts to register the mark in other countries.
An example of the athletic-inspired footwear being sold by Brooks Brothers, as noted in the plaintiff’s complaint. Courtesy of Filing

More than that, Brooks Sports claims that Brooks Brothers has also attempted to block the expansion of its trademarks to other regions.

“Brooks’ famous ‘Brooks’ trademarks described are critical in today’s digital world in which consumers shop for goods using word and voice searches,” Brooks Sports’ legal team wrote in a complaint filed on Feb. 10. “Consumers cannot search for designs or symbols, such as the Brooks chevron logo, that do not appear on their mobile phones or computer keyboards.

“As Brooks’ ‘Brooks’ trademarks continue to grow in the expanding market of consumers interested in athletics, fitness and exercise, Brooks must protect against consumer confusion by those who wish to trade off the famous Brooks trademarks that Brooks has spent over a century building,” Brooks Sports added.

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There was little sign of animosity prior to the lawsuit, as the companies forged a coexistence trademark agreement in 1980 to prevent trademark infringement. Prior to the advent of digital, however, consumers were unlikely to conflate a high-end, ready-to-wear apparel brand with a fitness footwear and apparel company.

However, as athleisure footwear has become more of a rule than an exception, retailers like Brooks Brothers have entered the market, specifically marketing products like “athletic” footwear and “sneakers,” according to Brooks Sports.

“For more than 100 years, we’ve built a brand that consumers worldwide recognize and trust,” Brooks Sports CEO Jim Weber said in a statement. “We will aggressively protect our intellectual property and defend the investment that’s created our valuable brand.”