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Converse files multiple lawsuits against footwear makers

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WASHINGTON—Converse Inc. has filed 22 federal lawsuits, as well as a petition with the International Trade Commission, against 31 footwear manufacturers, distributors and retailers it accuses of infringing design trademarks on its famous Chuck Taylor sneakers.

Converse accused the companies—including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Skechers U.S.A. Inc.—of violating Converse's federally registered trademarks for the midsole and outsole designs of Chuck Taylor athletic shoes.

The ITC petition, filed under Section 337 of the Trade Act that covers trademark infringement, was filed Oct. 14, the same day the lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

In the ITC action, Converse is seeking an exclusionary order preventing the allegedly infringing shoes from being imported or sold to the U.S. In the court cases, it seeks an injunction against the distribution and sale of those shoes, as well as actual and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and profits from sales of the shoes.

According to its federal court complaint against Wal-Mart, Converse began manufacturing All-Star high-top sneakers in 1917.

The shoes acquired their present-day appearance by 1932, the company said, and two years later they were renamed in honor of Chuck Taylor, a basketball player and Converse salesman.

Converse has spent $30 million promoting the Chuck Taylor brand in its past two fiscal years alone, according to the complaint. It also has served approximately 120 cease-and-desist letters at trade shows alone to protect its trademark, as well as additional letters and lawsuits, it said.

Converse accused the defendants of selling “confusingly similar imitations” of Chuck Taylor shoes. Specifically against Wal-Mart, Converse noted the retailing giant's “everyday low prices,” which meant it undercut Converse's Chuck Taylor prices by a considerable amount in selling the allegedly knockoff shoes.

“Defendant intended to create associations with Converse and to free-ride on Converse's goodwill,” the complaint said.

In its Section 337 complaint to the ITC, Converse asserted that excluding the allegedly infringing shoes from the U.S. market would not harm U.S. consumers in any way.

“If the accused products were excluded from the United States, U.S. consumers would continue to have access to an immense quantity of non-infringing footwear at all price points,” the company said.

Converse and Wal-Mart officials could not be reached for comment, and none of the defendants had replied to the Brooklyn court or the ITC at press time.