On Monday, Leonard argued that the suit should remain in California, where he filed it in June, and not be moved to Oregon as the Beaverton, Ore.-based activewear giant is seeking to do. A venue battle may seem somewhat administrative, but in this context, it speaks to key points of contention in the case: how was the logo in question conceived, and are there actually two distinct logo designs at issue here?
Nike has argued that the logo in question was created by its designers with some input from Leonard, and as part of a consulting and endorsement agreement between them that had begun in 2011. Under the terms of that contract, which Nike claims gives it the right to the intellectual property created as part of it, disputes stemming from the contract should take place in Oregon.
In a court filing on Monday, Leonard slammed that argument, saying he had created the logo before 2011 and while at San Diego State University, and that his Nike contract has no bearing over his original design.
“Plaintiff’s claim does not arise under the Nike agreement,” Leonard argued in the filing. “It arises under U.S. copyright law, and is based on conduct that occurred when plaintiff created the Leonard Logo while attending [San Diego State University] from 2009 through 2011, prior to the initial term of the Nike agreement.”
This argument gets at the heart of the suit: What is the logo in question and whose is it?
Leonard’s suit had claimed he had created a logo to represent his identity as a basketball player and to use in future product lines and endorsements. The logo in question represents Leonard’s hand and contains his initials, which Leonard said he designed to symbolize his prowess on the court and use on sports merchandise.
But Nike had hit back in July with counterclaims that the stylized and artistic logo it said its designers created as part of the contract with Leonard was much different from his original logo, which the brand portrayed as little more than a traced outline of Leonard’s hand containing his initials.
“Although the complaint conflates these two very distinct works and refers to both of them as the ‘Leonard Logo,’ Nike does not assert ownership of Leonard’s design above,” the company argued in a filing in July, referring to Leonard’s drawing of his hand with his initials. “As far as Nike is concerned, Leonard is free to use it.”
The logo itself seems to have had a somewhat disputed evolution during the course of the Nike contract, which extended over several years. Nike says it landed on the “Claw Design” when its designers modified and built on Leonard’s “rough draft” sketch of the logo. And the company says the contract ultimately grants the ownership of the intellectual property to Nike.
Leonard said that he had rejected Nike’s design concepts for the logo but that in 2014, he allowed them to use “the Leonard design.” Nike has argued that the two designs are not the same.
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