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New Balance sues Michael Kors over letter 'N' shoe design

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People walk by a Michael Kors store in Lakewood, Colorado. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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  • Luxury brand uses similar 'N' design on shoes, complaint said
  • Confusion allegedly likely because Kors himself is New Balance fan

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(Reuters) - Sneaker maker New Balance Athletics sued luxury brand Michael Kors in Boston federal court on Wednesday, alleging two pairs of its shoes use a letter "N" in their designs that infringes New Balance's trademarks.

The complaint also says Michael Kors' Pippin and Olympia shoes infringe New Balance's trade-dress rights by evoking the design of its best-selling "574" shoe model - which it says is projected to sell over 7 million pairs this year - and that confusion is more likely because Kors himself is a "well-known fan" of the brand.

New Balance spokesperson Amy Dow said that the lawsuit was filed to "protect our brand, our iconic 'N' trademarks and the reputation of our products." Its attorney Mark Puzella of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe declined to comment.

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Michael Kors' parent company Capri Holdings - which also owns luxury brands Versace and Jimmy Choo - also declined to comment.

New Balance said in the complaint that it has used the letter "N" on its products for over 40 years and owns federal trademarks covering the logo. The company said it asked Michael Kors to stop using a similar letter "N" design on its shoes, but was rebuffed.

The fact that Kors himself is a fan of New Balance - who said he owns "a good 15 pairs of New Balance in black," according to the complaint - and that the brand is known for its collaborations makes consumers more likely to wrongly believe that its shoes are affiliated with New Balance, the complaint said.

New Balance also said Michael Kors' use of the letter "N" on the "saddle" of its shoes - a piece of the shoe that wraps around the laces mid-foot - specifically infringes New Balance's trademark rights in its use of the letter "N" on the saddles of many of its "most famous" shoe designs.

New Balance settled claims in Massachusetts court that Nautica's shoes infringed its "N" trademarks last year.

The case is New Balance Athletics Inc v. Michael Kors (USA) Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 1:21-cv-11305.

For New Balance: Mark Puzella of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

For Michael Kors: Not immediately available

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com

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