A street view of the Nike store on Melrose Avenue

Nike Inc. hit back at Kawhi Leonard‘s claim that his drawing of a logo while in college predates his Nike contract, and argued Friday that the Los Angeles Clippers player was playing “word games” to equate what it believes are actually two different logos.

Leonard’s suit, filed in June in California federal court, followed a yearslong pro-basketball agreement between him and Nike since 2011 that included his endorsement of Nike products. That contract is now the subject of dispute between Nike and Leonard in the context of this logo — and what it even is, Nike argued.  

Leonard has said he designed the logo while at San Diego State University, and before the Nike contract began in 2011. 

Nike argued Friday that the logo that Leonard had designed in college was simply the trace of his hand with his initials in it, and not “the refined logo” that Nike claims its designers worked on during the contract. Nike refers to this version of the logo as “the Claw design,” a stylized rendering of Leonard’s initials in the shape of a hand. In its arguments so far in the case, Nike has sought to distinguish that design from what it describes as Leonard’s more straightforward drawing of his hand containing the letters K and L. 

It argued that Leonard misleadingly refers to both logos interchangeably as the “Leonard Logo,” but that they are different. 

“Plaintiff’s allegations deliberately conflate two works: the sketch that plaintiff created and showed to Nike in furtherance of the agreement, and the Claw Design that Nike’s designers created during the contract term in connection with plaintiff’s endorsement deal,” Nike argued in its filing. 

The dispute over the logo heated up in the context of where the suit should be heard to begin with. Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike has sought to move the suit to Oregon, citing a forum selection clause in its contract with Leonard. But Leonard pushed back last week, arguing that the forum selection clause doesn’t apply because the contract itself doesn’t apply to a logo he says he conceived in college. 

Nike argued Friday that the agreement certainly controls their dispute, because it involves the version of the logo that had been created as part of the contract. 

“Nike does not seek to apply the clause to allegedly tortious conduct in which it engaged before the contract was executed, but rather to plaintiff’s claims that he owns the claw design created by Nike in connection with the contract,” Nike argued. 

Leonard had argued in his suit that Nike cannot have a legitimate copyright registration of a logo he had conceived, and that any modifications that Nike’s designers had made to his logo weren’t enough to be considered copyrightable material, according to his complaint. 

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