In the stunning National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Melbourne having just admired three Rembrandts I was still in deep contemplation when I turned the corner and there they were. There were over 150 new and used sneakers exhibited like jewels under lights in two darkened rooms.

There were running shoes, sandshoes, basketball shoes, tennis shoes and sports shoes generally

The exhibition is titled: Sneakers: Classics to Customs.

"sneakers_volley"Honoured are the Australian classic sandshoe, the Dunlop Volley (pictured) which was introduced in 1939.

Dominating the display in terms of their number of exhibits are big name brands such as Converse All Stars, Adidas, Nike and Puma.

Sneaker intellectual property protection

Sneaker producers have available an array of intellectual property law to protect shoes, including:

  • trade mark registrations over names and symbols (eg the Nike swoosh symbol which was designed by a graphic design student who was paid US$35, and subsequently a confidential quantity of Nike stock);"sneakers_nikelogo"
  • design registrations over their look or style</strong>;
  • patent registrations over inventions in them; and
  • celebrity endorsements (strictly not IP, but contracts with celebrities can create IP-like marketable values).

Sneaker intellectual property litigation

This article is illustrated with an Adidas-Salomon shoe. A year ago Nike launched a patent suit by filing a complaint  for patent infringement against Adidas for that shoe in what one blogger has called “patent plaintiff paradise”: the Eastern District of Texas.

Nike’s press release announced its IP legal action. Nike claimed the Adidas shoe infringed Nike’s “SHOX cushioning” patents. Nike said its “…SHOX cushioning technology, which debuted in 2000, is protected by 19 or more separate patents on its unique cushioning system and required 16 years of development and considerable financial investment to transition it into the athletic footwear marketplace.”

It seems the case continues as yet with no result. There’s a lot at stake. In 2006 Adidas bought Reebok. Also in 2006 Nike, Inc reported that in its 2006 fiscal year (ending 31 May) it had 26,700 employees and revenues of US$15 billion.

At the height of the sports shoe craze in the 1980s it was reported that people in New York were being mugged for their sneakers. Those who wonder whether it is worthwhile obtaining IP protection over shoes and sneakers should consider applying the test sometimes applied – if it’s worth stealing, its worth registering.

Noric Dilanchian