About a month ago, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard filed a lawsuit in California accusing Nike of falsely laying claim to his “Klaw” logo. He’s now facing some aggressive defense by Nike.
Nike has now countersued Leonard alleging that Leonard seeks to re-write history by asserting that he created the logo when the logo was created by a talented team of Nike designers. In support of this, Nike relies on a statement made by Leonard in an interview where he stated the following:
I drew up the rough draft, sent it over and they (Jordan Brand) made it perfect…I give the Jordan Brand team all the credit because I’m no artist at all. They refined it and made it look better than I thought it would ever be, and I’m extremely happy with the final version.”
Here’s Nike’s version of the story.
Nike and Leonard entered into an endorsement deal. During that deal, Leonard forwarded the following sketch to the Nike team:
Nike’s team then prepared the following sketch:
The sketch prepared by the Nike team is the sketch that was affixed to Nike merchandise worn and endorsed by Leonard. The endorsement deal came to an end and now Leonard wants to continue using the logo but Nike says that the logo belongs to it.
Nike says that the sketch provided by Leonard and the one that ended up on Nike merchandise are plainly distinct works.
Do you agree?
One could argue that even though the two sketches might appear different, the similarities are striking in that both sketches have the letters “K” and “L” and the number “2” collectively stylized in the image of a hand. In both sketches, the letter “L” is formed by the middle finger and the thumb and the number “2” formed by the index finger.
Unbeknownst to Nike, it says that Leonard filed a trademark and copyright application for the exact logo that Nike says it authored and owns. In these applications, Nike says that Leonard fraudulently claims to be the author and sole owner of the logo that Leonard knows he did not author and does not own. This, Nike says, is an intention to deceive the U.S. Copyright Office into granting Leonard registration over the logo.
It seems unlikely that an apparel giant such as Nike would be vague in its endorsement contract with Leonard about the ownership of any intellectual property generated during the deal. However, if Leonard can argue that his sketch is sufficient to establish authorship prior to the endorsement deal, then that might not fall under the contract governing the endorsement deal which might mean that Leonard’s use of the logo might be unrestricted.
Leonard will now have an opportunity to defend Nike’s countersuit. Stay tuned!
If you have any questions about intellectual property matters, please contact Sepideh Nassabi, lawyer and registered trademark agent, at email@example.com.