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New Balance Sues LVMH Over Sneaker

Shoe firm New Balances alleges LVMH committed trademark infringement.

New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. accused Louis Vuitton of crossing the line between homage and infringement in a trademark lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The company filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Boston alleging that LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Minstrel sneaker, released as part of the luxury firm’s winter 2009 collection, borrows too heavily from its own 574 model.

The suit accuses LVMH of intentionally mimicking the 574’s shape and coloring with the Minstrel.

“Louis Vuitton’s deliberate attempt to trade off of the New Balance trade dress is clear from the fact that the principal color in which the Minstrel is offered is a gray/gray colorway that, in conjunction with the New Balance trade dress, is exclusively associated with New Balance as source,” the suit said.

An LVMH spokesman said Thursday the company had not been contacted by Boston-based New Balance and was “very surprised” by the suit.

“We take such matters very seriously and will immediately investigate these claims,” the LVMH spokesman said. “We will vigorously defend our rights, as we always do.”

New Balance, which has sold the 574 since the mid-Nineties, said in the suit that it is particularly vulnerable because of the strength of the Louis Vuitton brand.

“Louis Vuitton’s superior marketing ability and fame is likely to lead to reverse confusion because some relevant consumers will come to associate the 574 design with Louis Vuitton, not New Balance,” according to the suit.

To back up its allegation that LVMH is trading on a design associated with New Balance, the shoe company included in its complaint a handful of comments from sneaker aficionado Web sites such as Nicekicks.com that compared the two shoes.

“Besides minute changes such as toebox details and added metal eyelets, the shoes are virtually identical,” that site’s author, Matt Halfhill, wrote in a post on Aug. 13.

New Balance is seeking an injunction against further sales of the model, a court-ordered recall, any profits LVMH made from products found to be infringing and unspecified damages.