It only takes one letter.
New Balance last week filed suit against Authentic Brands Group and its owned label Nautica over its use of the letter “N” on footwear and apparel — claiming such use counts as trademark infringement of New Balance’s design patent.
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“Nautica’s use 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; dilutes the distinctive quality of New Balance’s famous ‘Block N Marks;’ and constitutes unfair competition,” the lawsuit, filed in a Massachusetts district court on Aug. 21 — and first reported by The Fashion Law — alleged.
New Balance further claimed in court documents that it “exclusively” used the “Block N Footwear Marks” in commerce since the 1970s and the “Block N Apparel Mark “since at least as early as 1996.”
“[New Balance] has sold hundreds of millions of pairs of shoes and pieces of apparel bearing the marks worldwide, which represent many billions of dollars in sales,” New Balance claimed. “’The Block N Marks’ are famous and embody an enormous amount of goodwill. They are among the company’s most valuable assets.”
The lawsuit alleges that only recently did Nautica — which ABG acquired from VF Corp. in 2018 — start using the letter “N” on its footwear and apparel. It goes on to note that both brands have similar distribution partners — namely Kohl’s and Macy’s — and have even enlisted similar entertainers and celebrities to promote their products.
Among its most interesting claims, New Balance points out in the suit a supposed affinity for its wares on the part of Nautica brand endorser and rapper Lil Yachty.
“In 2017 and 2018, Nautica partnered with rapper and designer Lil Yachty … Yachty is a well-known New Balance supporter, even ‘name-dropping’ the brand in his hit song ‘Minnesota,’” the suit reads. “Lil Yachty professed on an episode of Complex’s Sneaker Shopping, ‘Oh my god, I love New Balance.’”
Alleging both patent and trademark infringement as well as unfair competition on the part of Nautica, New Balance is seeking unspecified damages — including Nautica’s profits on products bearing the block letter “N;” an injunction compelling Nautica to discontinue its use of the block letter “N;” and a recall of all of Nautica’s footwear and apparel products bearing the letter symbol — among other remedies.
Nautica parent firm ABG did not immediately respond to FN’s request for comment.
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