Battle of the Knits
When Nike announced its new Nike Flyknit technology in February, it was met with substantial approval ratings among consumers. The new minimalistic features of the shoe seem to follow a trend that several industries have been adopting recently. With this new Flyknit technology, Nike announced that it was able to make a shoe 19% lighter than its 2011 World Championship winning Nike Zoom Streak 3, which is exciting news for athletes. To manufacture a shoe that “features only the essentials,” Nike switched from sewing different materials together to “[engineering] a system using a specialized yarn knit together into a one-piece, sock-like upper, which covers the toes and top of the foot.” Speculations of this new manufacturing system being able to reduce waste by up to two-thirds and cut labor costs make it more attractive than ever since it would mean being greener and more sustainable. But perhaps, this system is too attractive…
On July 25, about five months after Nike’s Flyknit debut, Adidas, Nike’s largest competitor, announced its new Primeknit shoe; and it wasn’t just the name that bore a striking resemblance to the earlier Nike product. This shoe too, boasted new innovations in the engineering process leading to the creation of a knitted upper for the sneaker in just one piece of material. James Carnes, the Head of Design for Sport Performance at Adidas, responded to allegations of copying saying, “it would have been impossible to copy this process in a matter of months. We have four years of documentation in the form of prototypes, tech drawings, samples, etc.” According to Adidas, the idea for Primeknit was sparked years ago when two members of their design team saw a glove at the Techtextil fair in Germany. According to Nike’s announcement, the Flyknit was four years in the making and was “born from the common runner feedback, craving a shoe with the qualities of a sock.” So, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a classic case of who thought of it first?
Well, Nike’s claiming they did, and the District Court in Nuremberg, Germany believes they have a sound argument. On September 24, 2012, Nike announced that the court “has granted our application for an interim injunction against Adidas for patent infringement . . . [a]s a result, Adidas has been ordered to stop the manufacture and distribution of the shoe in Germany.” Nike and Adidas are no strangers to patent litigation against each other, and it seems as though there is more to come as Nike also announced plans to seek a permanent injunction against Adidas. Right now it appears as though Nike has won the first battle, but will a court find that the use of knitted uppers is too broad of a category to restrict it to Nike alone? That remains to be seen.