Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers from Converse have been around for almost 100 years, during which the iconic shoes have been popular with generation after generation. No longer their original basic black, but still featuring their recognizable black stripes and rubber toe toppers, Chuck Taylor shoes have been so well-liked that dozens of other companies have developed footwear that Converse maintains infringed on the company’s trademarks and they are suing to stop.
Converse claims that 31 other manufacturers and retailers infringed on one or more of the Chuck Taylor shoe’s trademarked elements. The century-old shoe company feels that core design items, such as the rubber toe topper, have been copied by manufacturers of shoes at all price points, from Ralph Lauren and Tory Burch on the higher end to Kmart and Wal-Mart on the discounter side. They filed 22 separate lawsuits on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in New York. Owned by Nike since 2003, Converse is suing to get impostors off the shelves as well as damages.
Citing fairness, Converse’s rights and responsibility to protect its intellectual property and a desire to ensure consumer are not mislead, Jim Calhoun, president and CEO of Converse explained that “the goal really is to stop this action.”
Noting that the Chuck Taylor shoe design, universally known as the ‘Chuck,’ captured the hearts and minds of consumers, Calhoun said, “I think we’re quite fortunate here to be in the possession of what we would consider to be an American icon.” However, he added that companies do not have a right to copy the trademarked Chuck Taylor look.
Converse began making shoes in 1908 and basketball shoes in 1917. A basketball player named Charles “Chuck” Taylor approached the company in 1921 complaining his feet hurt in other shoes and they helped make a new design for him. He became a brand ambassador and salesperson for the new Chuck Taylor sneakers, a role he kept for more than 40 years.
The high-top sneakers were icon basketball shoes for decades, worn by players from high school to the NBA. During the 1950s, they became popular for everyday wear. Chuck Taylor shoes were worn in countless music videos, television shoes and movies like Grease and Rocky.
The company started making Chuck Taylor sneakers in colors other than black and white in the 1960s, and materials other than canvas in the 1970s. However, with competitors like Adidas, Nike and Reebok growing in popularity in the 1970s and new more expensive basketball shoes like Air Jordans becoming trendy wear, the company floundered. Around the turn of the century, Converse filed bankruptcy while led to their purchase by Nike.
Since then, the franchise was reinvigorated and has enjoyed consistent popularity since. They have reintroduced the classic versions along with special editions promoting rock groups, Dr. Seuss and purchasers’ own creativity. Overall, Converse estimates it has sold a billion pairs of Chuck Taylor sneakers worldwide.
Converse reportedly had approximately $205 million in annual sales at the time of the Nike purchase. In the 2014 fiscal year, Converse represented about $1.7 billion of Nike’s worldwide sales of $28 billion. The company realizes that those numbers would be even higher if the imitation versions of Chuck Taylor shoes were not cutting into their sales, which led to the company suiting to stop the knockoffs.
By Dyanne Weiss