Maxine Bernstein

The Oregonian

Nike has filed a countersuit against NBA star Kawhi Leonard, arguing that it holds exclusive rights to the claw logo its “talented team of designers” created and claims its distinct from the design that Leonard had sketched and provided to the company.

Leonard last month sued Nike in the middle of the NBA finals, contending it unlawfully copyrighted his “Klaw” personal logo that he says he started to conceive and create in college, drawing on his large hands, his jersey number and initials.

The sportswear company admitted that Leonard had forwarded the company a “rough draft” sketch of a hand that incorporated his initials “KL” and his jersey number “2,” but contends he then approved one of the proposed designs that Nike created in June 2014 as part of his contract.

The contract lasted from October 2011 through September 2018.

“Kawhi Leonard seeks to rewrite history …,” Nike’s lawyers Stanley J Panikowski III, in San Diego, and Tamar Y. Duvdevani and Matthew N. Ganas, in New York, wrote in counterclaims filed Wednesday in federal court in the Southern District of California. “Leonard alleges he provided a design to NIKE. That is true. What is false is that the design he provided was the Claw Design.”

Nike is also asking the court to transfer the case to federal court in Oregon, saying its contract with Leonard required any dispute arising from it to be litigated here.

Nike is now alleging copyright infringement and breach of contract against Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship and then signed with the LA Clippers. The company accuses Leonard of “reproducing” its claw design on non-Nike apparel during the NBA finals in violation of Nike’s exclusive copyright.

“The Contract sets forth in clear and unambiguous terms Leonard’s acknowledgement of NIKE’s ownership of all intellectual property created in connection with the Contract, regardless as to whether that intellectual property is created by Leonard or by NIKE,” the lawyers wrote.

Leonard’s suit alleges that Nike, without Leonard’s knowledge, filed for copyright registration of his logo and falsely represented in its application that Nike had authored it.

The company had obtained a copyright registration for what it called the “Kawhi Leonard Logo,” or claw design, claimed ownership of it and didn’t notify the basketball star when the copyright registration was granted, Nike’s lawyers admitted in court documents.

On Dec. 21, 2018, John Matterazzo, Nike’s vice president and global counsel for sports marketing, wrote to one of Leonard’s representatives that Nike owned the “claw design” and demanded Leonard cease its use on non-Nike merchandise.

Leonard’s lawyer responded the next month that his client intended to continue to use the design on clothing, hats and his own basketball shoes.

By mid-March, Nike demanded he “cease and desist” any unauthorized use of the logo.

Nike argued in court papers that Leonard had acknowledged Nike held exclusive rights to “any logos” created by Nike or Leonard in connection with his contract. The company included in court filings statements that Leonard reportedly made to a website called NiceKicks.com, where he was quoted saying in October 2014, “I drew up the rough draft, sent it over and they made it perfect. I give the Jordan Brand team all the credit because I’m no artist at all. They refined it and made it look better than I thought it would ever be, and I’m extremely happy with the final version.”

On June 3, 2019, Leonard filed a copyright application with the U.S. Copyright Office for what he called the “Kawhi Leonard Logo.”

Nike provided the court with the initial sketch that Leonard provided the company, which looks like an amateur drawing with a marker of his large hand, with his initials and jersey number.

“NIKE does not assert ownership of Leonard’s design above,” the company’s lawyers wrote below the sketch in court papers. “As far as Nike is concerned, Leonard is free to use it.”

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