Nike vs. John Geiger: Sneaker Brand Responds in Knockoff Air Force 1 Trial

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Nike’s legal battle involving designer John Geiger, who is accused of stealing his iconic Air Force 1, continued last week when the sneaker brand filed an opposition to Geiger’s motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. against him. In it, Nike’s attorneys describe the motion to dismiss as “both procedurally improper and fundamentally wrong in law.”

Nike sued California-based manufacturer La La Land Production for trademark infringement in January 2021, alleging it made counterfeit versions of Nike sneakers, including those by designer Warren Lotas. Nike added Geiger to the suit in August, saying La La Land made its GF-01 shoe, which is based on the Air Force 1.

In the motion to dismiss the amended lawsuit against him this month, Geiger’s attorneys argued that Nike’s trade dress, a kind of trademark that deals with the physical appearance of something, for the Air Force 1 was not strong enough to be protected. They pointed out the differences between the GF-01 shoe and the Air Force 1, saying consumers likely wouldn’t confuse the two shoes.

The GF-01 sneaker. Image via John Geiger Co.

In the response filed last week, Nike said Geiger’s GF-01 sneaker and its Air Force 1 trade dress are nearly identical. The memo refers to how Geiger himself acknowledged the shoes’ similarities, writing “that’s the point” in an Instagram comment to a user pointing out how his model looks like the Air Force 1.

“In other words,” the memo reads, “rather than clearing up any potential confusion, John Geiger himself admits that the relationship was the very point of creating the shoe.”

Nike did not respond to a request for comment. The specifics of Geiger’s argument aside, Nike’s attorneys say his motion to dismiss fails because it relies heavily on inadmissible extrinsic evidence that goes beyond what was included in the amended complaint.

Geiger’s attorneys argued that the Air Force 1 is recognizable as a Nike item because of the large Swoosh on the side, not because of its overall shape and design. Because the GF-01 shoe uses a separate logo from the Swoosh, they say, it’s virtually impossible to confuse the shoes. Nike rejects this argument, saying it would allow anyone to rip off their shoes by simply replacing their logos with theirs.

Geiger GF-01 Nike Air Force 1
A comparison between the Air Force 1 and the GF-01. Image via United States District Court

“Whether and to what extent consumers recognize the Air Force 1 trade dress in the absence of the Swoosh is a question of fact for the jury and improper to consider in a motion to dismiss. “, reads the memo from Nike.

In Geiger’s motion to dismiss, his attorneys claim that La La Land only made a prototype shoe for him and did not regularly produce the GF-01. In Nike’s response, the brand claims to have obtained documents showing that La La Land “produced significant quantities of several styles of GF-01 sneakers.”

In a statement to Complex, Geiger again distanced himself from La La Land.

“Nowhere in its amended complaint does Nike accuse me of selling ‘fake’ or counterfeit Nikes, as it does for La La Land,” Geiger said. “But in its opposition to our motion to dismiss, Nike has turned the script on its head, suddenly saying that me and La La Land worked together to create a counterfeit sneaker. This is exactly the kind of inevitable confusion that will occur if Nike is allowed to “poison the well” by tying me to La La Land.

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