Nike is facing a lawsuit from Toronto Raptor’s Kawhi Leonard on copyright claims for Leonard’s “Klaw” logo. Leonard submitted filed a lawsuit against his former sponsor in the US District Court, south of California last Monday.
Branding Issues for Kawhi Leonard’s Merchandise
Kawhi Leonard and his business team want to take advantage of Leonard’s stardom in the NBA finals to sell his merchandise to basketball fans and supporters. Subsequently, Leonard was told that Nike held the rights to his popular “Klaw” logo. Nike allegedly copyrighted Leonard’s signature logo without his knowledge and consent.
During Nike’s sponsorship contract with the Toronto Raptors star, from October of 2011 to September of 2014, Leonard permitted the brand to use his “Klaw” logo during the span of their contract. What Leonard was not aware of was when Nike copyrighted the logo during his time with the brand. Essentially, the rights to his logo were stolen from him. “Conversely as the many communications, including text and e-mails show, Leonard permitted Nike to use the Leonard logo for their mutual benefit… for the term of their contract,” as mentioned in the lawsuit. It also stated that Nike denied endorsing its merchandise with the “Klaw” logo for Leonard’s “sports camps and charity functions.”
“Since at least his college years, Leonard contemplated and conceived of ideas for a personal logo which would be unique to him and reflect something meaningful relating to his image,” as stated in the lawsuit. Leonard’s “Klaw” logo depicts an outline of his large hand, his initials, and his jersey number two. “Leonard is known for his extremely large hands. Throughout his career, spectators have noticed Leonard’s large hands, and they are often described as contributing to his success as a player.”
Aside from Nike and Leonard, the Los Angeles Clippers were eyeing up the Toronto star player during the free agency period after the NBA series. The NBA team reportedly planned to buy Leonard’s logo from Nike as an attempt to lure him into the team.
Weighing in on a Licensing Agreement
Several sports lawyers believe that Kawhi Leonard and Nike would likely settle with an agreement, but the court could be in favor of Leonard’s position.
“Even if Nike were legally in the right, the mere fact that a brand that relies so heavily on elite commercial athletes would attempt to prevent one of its former partner athletes from marketing his own license will make it far more difficult for Nike to sign endorsement deals with athletes in the future. The NBA is a small, close-knit league and picking a battle of this nature against one of the elite athletes seems like a fool-hearted more,” law professor at Baruch College Marc Edelman explained.
Edelman also pointed out that the content of the contract made between Leonard and Nike is vital to the lawsuit, “The complaint sets forth claims that strongly indicates confusion and trademark violation. The court would have to look at what Kawhi Leonard alleges but what the underlying contract is ultimately what’s the most critical.”
After Leonard switched from Nike to New Balance, Nike would also like to avoid the “Klaw” logo from being monetized by its competitor. Academic sports management director at Columbia University Scott Rosner said that “A loss for New Balance and Kawhi is a win for Nike. The more that Nike can prevent its competitors from gaining any sort of traction, the better off they are.” Rosner also added that Nike could be seen as the “spurned ex” from its previous relationship with Leonard.
Edelman said that “Nike does not seem to have that much to gain from taking this case to final adjudication and has a lot to lose in terms of negative public relations. In the following days, Nike is expected to comply with the court and could either file a response to the lawsuit of Kawhi Leonard or appeal a motion to dismiss the case.
Making it to the NBA finals this year against the Golden State Warriors should be a momentous milestone and peek of achievement in Kawhi Leonard’s career. Sports experts agreed that Leonard’s push for his brand and merchandise was expected.