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18/05/2017

Which Sportswear Giant is More Legally Aggressive

 

“For decades it’s looked like no company could ever topple Nike, the $86 billion global sneaker juggernaut,” wrote GQ’s Matthew Shaer a couple of years ago. As of early 2015, adidas was still underperforming its top rival in the key U.S. sportswear market and confronting headlines that it was even trailing behind Under Armour, a far smaller player. Yet, over the past two years in particular, adidas has made a markedly successful play for the top spot and the German giant is not letting up.

In recent quarters, Adidas has managed to sustain double-digit sales gains, principally in the crucial North American market. As noted by adidas-Group CEO Kasper Rorsted in March, "The one market that we have traditionally been challenged in, North America, we have made fantastic progress in the past two years so we have great momentum."

“Nike is still growing. Its dominant position atop the athletic footwear and apparel business remains secure,” Oregon Live’s Jeff Manning stated in November. “But adidas is growing faster. For the first time in recent memory, they're grabbing market share from Nike.” And adidas is doing so by way of what analysts have called a “sweet spot at the crossroads of sports and pop culture.”

In addition to purely athletic shoes, the brand is banking on athleisure apparel, fashion collaborations, reissues of timeless classics (such as the Stan Smith and the Gazelle, among others), and the headline-grabbing YEEZY collection with rapper Kanye West, who first collaborated with Nike in 2009, but switched to adidas in 2013. It is worth noting that in terms of the latter element, Matt Powell, Vice President of Industry Analysis and the Sports Industry Analyst for New York-based market search firm, NPD Group, noted recently, “Adidas’ sales were negative for 2 years after signing West. Of the top 10 adidas shoes [in 2016], only one was remotely related to West.”

Regardless of the actual impact that such big-name collaborations have on the companies' bottom lines – practically speaking, only sneaker-heads and/or fashion fanatics actually respond to such projects – the two rivals have sparred in terms of which could land more desirable collaborators.

In the past several years, alone, Nike has teamed up with former Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci, Berlin-based tech brand ACRONYM, Supreme, Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s menswear director Kim Jones, and designer John Elliott, among others. In addition to West, adidas has landed Pharrell, Alexander Wang, Raf Simons, Palace Skateboards, Nice Kicks, and Mary Katrantzou.

In addition to fighting for market share and the coolest designers/brand names, the two sportswear giants have been battling on-and-off for years in courts across the U.S. and abroad, in connection with patent-protected footwear designs, trade secret-stealing employees, and an array of other legal matters. While active litigation has long been a tactic of both adidas and Nike (against one another and against third parties), adidas has made headlines recently for the slew of lawsuits that it has filed against entities ranging from Elon Musk’s Tesla to fast fashion retailer Forever 21.

In light of what Forever 21 recently referred to as adidas’ “overly-aggressive” stance on legal matters when it comes to intellectual property (“IP”) – one that rivals that of a luxury brand, such as Louis Vuitton, which has been pegged in courts as a “trademark bully” due to its widespread efforts to fight any and all unauthorized uses of its valuable trademarks – how do these two rivals compare?

We looked at the IP litigation and trademark/patent opposition activity of both Nike and adidas over the past year or so (from January 2016 through April 2017 and compared it generally to comparable activity in 2014 and 2015) to see which brand is more assertively working to ensure that others are not infringing its valuable IP assets.

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