California Intellectual Property Blog

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Kawhi Leonard Sues Nike for Copyright Infringement of His Logo

San Diego – Kawhi Leonard, the small forward for the recently crowned champions Toronto Raptors, has filed a copyright lawsuit against Nike. In the lawsuit, Leonard claims that Nike has taken a design that Kawhi created and registered it with the U.S. Copyright office and used it all without his authorization. Leonard also claims that the sports apparel company threatened to sue him for using it on his merchandise.

Leonard began a partnership with Nike in 2011 as part of a multi-year endorsement deal. The deal allowed Nike to use Leonard’s Logo during the tenure of the partnership and endorsement. While Leonard allowed Nike to use the logo, he says that he had never transferred any other rights or ownership to Nike. There are many communications between Nike and Kawhi Leonard showing the permission to use the Logo for mutual benefit and outlining that the logo could be used during the life of the endorsement.

While Leonard had used the logo for his own purposes through the tenure of the endorsement, he did so without any push back from Nike. The situation began to escalate when Leonard learned that Nike had applied with the U.S. Copyright Office to register the logo. A U.S. Copyright Registration was granted to Nike on May 17, 2017 and it lists Nike as the sole author of the logo and the sole owner of the registration. The copyright registration lists the creation as a “work for hire” so apparently Nike is claiming that its own employees, not Leonard, created the design.

Nike received the copyright registration just after the partnership with Leonard ended. When the relationship ended, Leonard went to the U.S. Trademark office and filed a trademark application or the same logo. On November 13, 2018, the trademark registered for use in relation to apparel.

Leonard has demanded that Nike withdraw its copyright registration, whereas Nike has demanded that Leonard cease use of the logo. It appears that the case will turn on the fact of who created the original logo, and if Nike added sufficient original material to have any copyright rights. The case is pending in San Diego where Leonard is from and played college basketball for San Diego State.

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