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Nike Tries to Ban Imports of Adidas Knit Shoes, Accusing It of Copying Designs

Adidas shoe. Shutterstock.
Adidas shoe. (Shutterstock)

Nike Inc. is asking a US trade agency to block imports of a wide range of Adidas AG Primeknit shoes, saying they copy the Oregon company’s patented inventions for a knitted fabric that reduces waste without any loss in performance.

The complaint, filed Wednesday at the International Trade Commission in Washington, seeks to ban imports of shoes, including Adidas by Stella McCartney Ultraboost, Pharrell Williams Superstar Primeknit Shoes and Terrex Free Hiker hiking shoes. Nike also filed a patent-infringement suit in federal court in Oregon making similar allegations.

The patents cover Nike’s FlyKnit technology, which uses specialized yarn from recycled and reclaimed materials to create a sock-like fit in the upper part of the shoe. Nike said it was the result of more than $100 million and a decade of research — almost all done in the US — and “represented the first major technology innovation in footwear uppers in decades.”

FlyKnit was first introduced before the 2012 London Olympics and has been adopted by “basketball great LeBron James, international soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, and world record marathoner Eliud Kipchoge,” Nike said in the complaint.

“Unlike Nike, Adidas has forgone independent innovation,” Nike said in a court filing. “Instead, Adidas spent the past decade unsuccessfully challenging several of Nike’s patents directed to FlyKnit technology — all while using Nike’s patented technology without permission.”

Nike said it was “forced to bring this action to defend its investments in innovation to protect its technology by halting Adidas’ unauthorised use.”

Adidas said it’s analysing the complaint and “will defend ourselves against the allegations.”

“Our Primeknit technology resulted from years of dedicated research and shows our commitment to sustainability,” Mandy Nieber, an Adidas spokeswoman, said.

Several of Nike’s patents, including two of the six in the ITC complaint, have been the target of regulatory challenges by companies including Adidas. Nike said they were filed only because it refused to pledge not to sue the German company.

The civil suit, filed in Portland, Oregon, accuses Adidas of infringing those six patents and three others related to FlyKnit technology. It seeks unspecified damages and asks that any award be tripled for the intentional copying. It’s also seeking an order to halt sales.

Nike has been aggressive in protecting its FlyKnit and other shoe inventions. A lawsuit against Puma SE settled in January 2020 and ones against Skechers USA Inc. settled in November.

The US trade agency is a popular forum for companies looking to derail rivals in the world’s biggest market. The commission works more quickly than most courts, with final decisions typically in 15 to 18 months. Not only can it block products at the US border, it can halt sales of products already brought into the country, an order that’s harder to get in district court.

The cases are In the Matter of Knitted Footwear, 337-3580, US International Trade Commission (Washington) and Nike v Adidas, 21-1780, US District Court for the District of Oregon (Portland).

By Susan Decker

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