Reebok International filed a complaint for two patent infringements on August 10, 2016 with the International Trade Commission (ITC), alleging that New York-based TRB Acquisitions LLC, RBX.com LLC and Elite Performance Footwear are violating Section 337 of the 1930 Tariff Act… and in turn stepping on the toes of Reebok sole patents.
If you know anything about Reebok’s parent Adidas, you know they are scrupulous about protecting their patents.
In this case, Reebok is attempting to cease the importation, sale for importation and sale within the U.S. after importation of “certain athletic footwear” that, according to the complaint, mimics flexible sole technology owned by Reebok.
The complaint may feel like déjà vu for TRB, who was on the receiving end of a former November 2015 Reebok lawsuit when the brand and its parent company Adidas claimed TRB products (created under the RBX Active brand) were infringing on trademark logos owned by the three stripes and Reebok. The complaint said TRB products “use imitations of the Adidas Marks and Reebok Marks in a manner that is likely to cause consumer confusion and deceive the public regarding the source, sponsorship and/or affiliation of the products.”
A similar case is now returning from the grave. Reebok pointed to detailed figures of its 221 flexible sole patent (pictured below) up for debate in the August 2016 complaint, and is turning to Section 337 of the Tariff Act to back up the protection of this technology.
Section 337 declares the infringement of a U.S. patent, copyright, registered trademark or mask work to be an unlawful practice in import trade, mainly because it creates unfair competition and can injure domestic industry. This sounds a little like the big guys protecting their big interest, but it’s undeniable that the RBX tread is reminiscent of Reebok’s CrossFit-intended shoes: a stranglehold Reebok is not going to give up without a fight.
TRB is being painted as the conductor of the infringement, allegedly giving license to Elite and RBX to manufacture infringing products in China and import, market and sell within the U.S.
Sure, this may be a case of Adidas covering its fam in the face of confrontation, but that’s not so clear. The complaint raises the question of whether RBX is worth going after. Looking at consumer recognition, RBX is peewee compared to major league Reebok. Its measly 2,000 plus Facebook following is lost in the sea of 5.5 million plus Reebok U.S. fans.
On the retail side, RBX opened its first store and “reimagined brand positioning” on July 1, 2016, while Reebok/Adidas wholly-owned stores worldwide are somewhere in the thousands.
Still, a win for Reebok could make a sizable dent in the burgeoning RBX by shutting down about a dozen men’s and women’s footwear models (a handful pictured below). We guess you don’t become a sportswear leader by letting the little guys step on your toes.
Photos courtesy Reebok, RBX Active