It’s certainly not unusual to see businesses, particularly large businesses involved with a lot of different products, to be on both sides of trademark or copyright issues, but typically there’s something of an interval between their times as the offender and the offended. Credit, then, to Nike for responding to the needs of our fast-paced world and cutting down that intervening period to something like mere hours.
Fresh off of their own trademark case against Lil Nas X and his collaborators over their “Satan Shoes” that prominently featured the iconic (and trademarked) swoosh, Nike has its own turn in the barrel, as the U.S. Postal Service alleges the company has infringed upon their trademarks with a new shoe design.
Per Yahoo! Finance, Nike’s latest version of its Air Force 1 sneakers takes its inspiration from some of the imagery we’ve come to associate with the USPS — too much inspiration, it would seem. (For an image of what the sneakers look like, you can check out an accompanying story from TechDirt.) The USPS alleges that the designs were used without permission or consultation on their part, and that the use represents a violation of their IP rights.
And it’s hard to argue against the Postal Service after glimpsing Nike’s version of a postal label on the back of the shoes. Print media and physical letters may not be what they once were, but the USPS is still ubiquitous enough that most of us can probably summon its logos and branding to mind right now. And the shoes are certainly playing on that; you don’t need to be told what they’re trying to evoke in order for you to grasp what they're going for, at least in the case of most individuals.
As always, there are the pertinent questions over brand confusion salient to any trademark case, and while the USPS does good and necessary work, likely no one would confuse them with a lifestyle brand, nor believe that they’ve somehow branched out into the sneaker game or entered into a partnership with Nike. But as Timothy Geigner points out over at TechDirt, these are the same arguments made in favor of Lil Nas X and his devilish designs, none of which dissuaded Nike from moving quickly to shut sales of those shoes down.
It’s perhaps pleasant to think that Nike might be in line for a bit of karma, but the point of being Nike and having Nike money is that you can forestall any such consequence, or at least mitigate the effects. So while we can dream of the USPS shutting them down in a similarly abrupt manner, more likely is a quiet settlement to stem the tide of bad press; after all, there are few problems money can’t solve.