Updated June 30, 2020:

What Is a Trademark?

Nike trademarks are trademarks owned by the leading shoe manufacturer. Companies like Nike use trademarks to protect their brand. With a trademark in place, a company can prevent unauthorized use of their intellectual property. Items that can be trademarked include catchphrases, names, figures, lyrics, and symbols.

A standard trademark registration will last for 10 years, and when it is set to expire, you will need to re-register your trademark to secure another 10 years of protection. If you don't regularly use your trademark, you may lose your rights to your mark.

Two Types of Trademarks

There are two different trademarks that are available. The TM symbol is used for common law trademarks, which are trademarks that are in use but have not yet been registered.

The ® symbol is for trademarks that have been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A registered trademark provides much more extensive protections than common law trademarks.

Five Levels of Trademarks Exist

If you're interested in registering a trademark, there are five different trademark levels that you could choose:

  • Fanciful: A fanciful trademark consists of a word that has no meaning outside of the mark. An example of this would be Kodak.
  • Arbitrary: These trademarks are words that exist in reality, but are not used to describe the actual products of the company. An example of this is Apple, a company that makes computers and other tech products.
  • Suggestive: A suggestive mark is a trademark that implies a connection between a company and a product.
  • Descriptive: A descriptive trademark describes the exact good that the company provides.
  • Generic: These marks are comprised of generic words or phrases such as “computer store.”

Copyrights and trademarks are legal protections for different types of intellectual property. You may be entitled to compensation if someone uses your copyright or trademark without obtaining your permission. If you've read a book, visited a website, or purchased a product, it's likely you've seen either the TM or © symbol.

Copyrights are slightly easier to understand than trademarks. You can copyright any type of original content or intellectual property that you have created.

Types of intellectual property that can be protected by copyrights include:

  • Architectural plans
  • Paintings
  • Screenplays
  • Songs
  • Stories

When you copyright a piece of intellectual property, the work of art, not its subject matter, will be protected. For example, if two novels cover the same subject, their copyrights will not be violated if the writing style, length, and approach of the novels are different. While copyrights don't need to be registered, they won't last in perpetuity.

A copyright will last for the entire life of the artwork's creator, plus 70 years after their death. Once your work of art is published, it will be protected by copyright law. Once the 70-year post-death period has ended, the work of art becomes part of the public domain and can be used by anyone.

Ideas Can't Be Protected

Because ideas are so ubiquitous, they cannot be protected by any form of intellectual property law. However, you can use a trademark to protect the name of your idea as long as you put the idea to use. You can also protect a story, but not the subject matter that it covers.

The only way to protect an idea is by applying for a patent. However, there must be a plan in place to use your idea before a patent will be granted.

Nike and Its Trademarks

Nike holds several trademarks, including their famous swoosh symbol and the phrase “just do it.” Essentially, Nike has a trademark on its name, slogan, and symbol. If the company had failed to trademark any of these items, they could be used in another company's marketing.

NIKE vs. Nike

When referring to the actual Nike company, you would write NIKE, Inc. Use Nike, without the capitalization, when making reference to the brand.

Affiliate Brands

The correct way to reference one of Nike's affiliate brands is Hurley International LLC and Converse Inc.

One of Nike's most famous trademarks is the “Jumpman” logo, a silhouette of former NBA player Michael Jordan. This logo can be found on every Jordan brand sneaker and originated with a Life magazine photograph.

In the summer of 1984, a photographer by the name of Jacobus Rentmeester took a photograph of Jordan in midair as he was about to dunk a basketball. Later on, Rentmeester filed an infringement lawsuit in a district court in Portland, Oregon. According to him, after the photo was published in Life, Nike paid him for the right to temporarily use transparencies of the image for slide presentation only, without any other form of duplication.

Then, Nike came up with its own Jordan image, which was almost identical to Rentmeester's, and began using it in its marketing campaigns. The photographer confronted Nike about its image, saying that it was essentially a reproduction of his original. In response, the sportswear giant paid him $15,000 in order to continue using the image it created. An invoice for the $15,000 was submitted during the legal proceedings. It was specified in the invoice that Nike was only allowed to use its image for two years in North America, with all other rights belonging to Rentmeester.

In 1987, Nike introduced its Jumpman logo, which is a silhouette of the Jordan image it created, and the photographer again said that it was a duplicate of his image. More than 30 years and billions of dollars in sales later, the sportswear company is still using the Jumpman logo, while Rentmeester is asking for a share of the revenue generated through the use of the image. Even a small percentage of the revenue from products bearing the image will be significant. According to SportsOneSource, Jordan sneakers generated over $2.6 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2014.

The sneakers that bear Michael Jordan's name and image have helped Nike become one of the leading sportswear brands in the world today. Even a short-term injunction that prevents the use of the Jumpman logo will be a major headache for the company. Over the years, the Jumpman logo has become synonymous with Jordan products.

On March 16, Nike filed a motion requesting the court to dismiss the infringement lawsuit, claiming that Rentmeester's allegations were meritless and did not meet the standard for trademark infringement. The company also said that the photographer did not have a monopoly on Michael Jordan, his athletic prowess and appearance, or images of him performing a dunk.

Sneakers With Knit Uppers

Nike and Adidas both launched their first knitted running shoes in 2012. Each of them had spent years developing its own version of the shoes. However, since Nike patented its technology first, it was able to start selling its Flyknit sneakers in February, while Adidas had to wait until July to release its Primeknits. Soon, Nike began accusing Adidas of infringing the patent for its high-tech, one-piece, woven uppers, which it considered industry-changing products and a symbol of its innovative prowess.

After legal battles in Germany concluded in favor of Adidas, the case moved to the U.S. Adidas submitted a petition to the USPTO to dispute the legitimacy of Nike's “footwear with a textile upper” patent. As it did in Europe, it argued that Nike was patenting technology that was already in existence and therefore not patent-worthy. The court eventually agreed with the German sportswear giant. Nonetheless, Nike fought back by filing an appeal in December, claiming that its patent was indeed valid.

A Nike victory will be a big blow to Adidas, which was experiencing shrinking visibility in the U.S. However, Nike's true victory lies in its ability to strengthen its reputation as the leading innovator in the sneaker industry. When it comes to sales, Adidas' Primeknits do not pose a significant threat in the U.S.

Trade Secrets

The dispute between Nike and Adidas became uglier in September 2014 when the German company hired three senior designers away from its rival and began setting up a design office for them in Brooklyn, New York.

In December, Nike sued the three designers for $10 million, accusing them of breaching their noncompete agreements with the company and taking unreleased product designs, marketing plans, and other proprietary secrets to their new employer. According to Nike, its confidential information was in the hands of the individuals, who induced its rival to hire them with the promise to deliver a wealth of information that will provide a competitive advantage.

The designers attempted to cover up their misdeeds by deleting emails and other data from their Nike-owned computers and phones. Nevertheless, Nike managed to uncover enough information to embarrass its former employees and Adidas. Messages showed that the designers did not actually want to work for Adidas. They had wanted to start their own company. However, since they did not have enough money to do so, jumping ship to Adidas was the next best option.

The lawsuit sought an injunction that required the designers to turn over all the confidential information they held, avoid having any public association with Adidas, and stop designing any footwear. One day after the lawsuit was filed, Nike was granted a temporary restraining order against its former employees.

The designers countersued Nike, claiming that all the company's allegations were false and accusing it of violating their privacy. They also said that Nike's corporate culture was stifling their creativity and many of the designers in the company were not pleased with the culture of intimidation and distrust that existed between the executives and creatives.

As a result of the ugly battle with the three designers, Nike is showing chinks in its armor. While it may not have a significant impact on the company's current market share, it may prove detrimental in the future.

Does Nike Permit Use of Its Trademarks, Logos, Images, or Advertising?

Nike does not permit other parties to use or modify its trademarks, images, logos, advertising, or other such materials. It is your responsibility to find out if your use is legally permissible. For instance, using Nike logos in textbooks may be regarded as fair use in some situations. Nike does not respond to requests for permission or interviews.

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