Nike has deadline to respond to Reebok's patent claim

Marilyn Tennissen Jun. 28, 2007, 4:45am

Nike Free 5.0

Imagine going to the gym for a game of b-ball and forgetting to bring sneakers. Reebok claims it came up with an idea for a shoe that could be dispensed from a vending machine as easily as a can of soda in just such an emergency.

Reebok recently took its rival in the sneaker market, Nike, to court over the collapsible shoe idea, and Nike has until July 2 to answer allegations that it has infringed on Reebok's patent.

As first reported by LegalNewsLine in April, the two mammoths of the athletic shoe market have a case in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

On April 3, Reebok International Ltd. filed a complaint for patent infringement against Nike Inc. In question is U.S. Patent No. 7,168,190 issued Jan. 30.

Inventor Andrew Gillespie filed his application with the Patent Office on July 18, 2002.

According to the abstract attached to court documents, the "Collapsible Shoe" has flexible soles that allow the shoe to be rolled, folded or collapsed into itself.

"The article of footwear in a collapsed state can then be packaged in a container. This container can be dispensed b a vending machine in a convenient urban area," the patent document states.

Nike's "Free" line of athletic shoes is allegedly in violation of the '190 patent, Reebok claims.

Released in 2004, Nike does not market the Free line as a collapsible or "vending machine" shoe, but it does utilize a flexible sole that it claims is "one step closer to being barefoot."

Free is a "unique shoe designed to build strength by mimicking barefoot running on grass," the Nike Web site entry for the Men's Free 5.0 says.

"Nike's patented PhyliteTM midsole utilizes a grid pattern of lateral and longitudinal flex grooves, for the greatest flexibility you'll ever attain in a Nike shoe," the Web site claims about the Free line.

Oprah Winfrey named the Women's Free 5.0 on her 2005 list of Holiday Favorite Things.

"As a result of Nike's infringement, Reebok has suffered and will continue to suffer damages," the original complaint states. "Reebok is entitled to recover damages sustained by Reebok as a result of Nike's wrongful acts in an amount to be proven at trial."

Because Nike's infringement was "willful and deliberate," Reebok says it is entitled to treble damages. Treble damages are an award in which the judge triples the amount that the jury awards, as a punishment to the defendant.

Reebok, now part of German giant Adidas-Salomon AG, holds about 20 percent of the U.S. sneaker/sports-equipment market compared to Nike's 40 percent, according to Bloomberg.

"We are evaluating the claims related to this very recently issued U.S. patent and any potential limited application to the successful Nike Free product," according to a Nike statement in April.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis gave Nike several months to "evaluate the claims" and ordered a July 2 date to submit its answer to Reebok's claim.

Case No. 6:07-cv-00144-LED

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