Converse has filed 21 lawsuits in federal court to defend the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star shoe design. The shoe was first manufactured in 1917 to attract the basketball market, and subsequently became a fashion statement. All Stars could be considered the Jordan’s of a previous era and they were easily recognized and in demand.
In the 1920s Chuck Taylor, a basketball player, became a representative for Converse. A redesigned shoe adding his name to the logo led to a flurry that went on until the 1970s. The canvas shoe with a white rubber toe cap and thick white stitching is unmistakable even today.
According the suit filed by Nike, who has owned Converse since 2003, 31 companies are infringing on its trademarks held by its subsidiary. The suit was filed in the Brooklyn U.S. District Court.
The original Converse filed bankruptcy in 2001 and was bought by Nike for $309 million in 2003. The American Icon has been revived now offering clothing and new shoes based on its All Star design and exhibiting the famous logo, All Stars.
All Stars have been worn for decades from skateboarders and ball players to greasers. People have donned the shoe and its logo with pride. They were at one time the official shoe of the National Basketball Association and have even been sported on the red carpet.
Fakes have never been permitted when it comes to All Stars. The phase “They ain’t nothing, if they don’t say Chuck on the side” comes to mind, for many. It was even embarrassing not to wear All Stars while playing sports in certain cities, even more than Jordan’s are a desired shoe of today. All Stars earned players respect and were noticed by competitors.
The counter-culture icon has been involved in other suits over the years. Converse was sued in 2007, for the use of their traditional colors of black fraternities and sororities. Converse agreed to share revenues from the sale of shoes with certain color combinations with the Greek organizations. A multi-year license agreement was established, the terms of which were not disclosed to the public. The organizations had argued their color combinations did not need to be trademarked. Certain colors had been associated with these fraternities and sororities since the early 1900s and the use of them on shoes attracted attention. Jack Boys, CEO of Nike at the time stated ‘We look forward to a long association that Nike respected the Greek organization’s heritage and supported democracy and originality.
Walmart, Kmart and Skechers are a few of the defendants named in the monetary lawsuits filed. H&M, Europe’s second largest clothing chain, was also among companies charged. At the time of this article, none of the firms had responded to the media regarding the Converse claims.
Charges were filed with the International Trade Commission to prevent the import of knockoffs. Nike is not likely to get much financially from the suits but the limiting of infringements would be considered a huge win, according to John Calhoun, the Converse chief executive. With Nike, the parent company, the world wide success of Converse was inevitable.
The Converse brand has a special sentiment with baby boomers. Subsequent generations have also clamored to new products, as well as the classic, shoe making Converse, a major player in sportswear. It will be a hard fought court battle and public sentiment will be hard to avoid. A potential jury pool and judges cannot help but to defend an American founded company with ties to World War II, HIV prevention and internships for college graduates.
By Oliver L. Malcom, Jr.