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Image: adidas

Almost exactly two years after Milkcrate Athletics filed – and swiftly settled – a lawsuit against adidas, accusing it of infringing its trademarks, Milkcrate has waged a new fight against the German sportswear giant. In the complaint that it filed in a New York federal court on July 29, New York-based streetwear label Milkcrate alleges that on the heels of reaching an “amicable settlement” in October 2019, adidas is “once again, knowingly, willfully, and intentionally ripping-off [its] name and logo” by way of three new sneaker styles, “and treating whatever attendant potential fall-out and/or resultant lawsuit simply as a ‘cost of doing business.’” 

According to the newly-filed complaint, Milkcrate claims that despite previously entering into an out of court settlement with adidas in connection with the sportswear company’s alleged infringement of the Milkcrate name, as well as its trademark and copyright-protected milkcrate logos, adidas is “offering for sale and selling sneakers, which bear – and are advertised and sold using – confusingly similar and identical imitations of [its] trademarks and copyrights.” 

Specifically, Milkcrate points to three adidas sneaker styles – the Vic Lloyd x adidas Superstar, Vic Lloyd x adidas Forum Low “Chicago Works Harder,” and Vic Lloyd x adidas Forum Low – which, it alleges, “blatantly copy [its] trademarks/copyrights, [and] literally tread on the goodwill associated with [it] and its business.” In addition to variations of its milkcrate logo appearing on the tongue of the sneakers in an allegedly source-identifying capacity, Milkcrate also claims that adidas is using its name in the product descriptions for these shoes, stating, for instance, “Basketball and music have a shared origin in the milkcrate. Designed by Vic Lloyd, these adidas Superstar shoes represent the spirit of the crate diggers and DJs that call Chicago home.” 

Milkcrate’s mark (left) & adidas’ sneakers (center, right)

Milkcrate claims that the similarity between the elements of its branding and the designs that appear on adidas’ sneakers is hardly a coincidence, as adidas “is well aware of” the Milkcrate brand “due to previous dealings, including being sued in federal court in New York City by Milkcrate over adidas’ unauthorized use of the Milkcrate name and logo.” And beyond that, Milkcrate asserts that Vic Lloyd and Corey Gilke, who are also named as defendants in the complaint, are also well aware of Milkcrate’s rights, as they “were wholesale buyers of the Milkcrate brand for over ten years; purchasing for re-sale Milkcrate’s clothing and accessories for their retail store located in Chicago, Illinois.” As such, “Both men … have full knowledge of Milkcrates brand and copyrights and trademarks.” 

“Despite this knowledge,” Milkcrate alleges that the “defendants deliberately continue to infringe upon [its] copyright and trademark through the sales of sneakers bearing the Milkcrate logo,” and adidas, in particular, the plaintiff claims, is “using the size and strength of its company to financially back and use its market dominance to take advantage of a smaller company and is willfully infringing upon [Milkcrate’s] work” in furtherance of its “desire to control and dominate the youth and streetwear market.” 

Against that background, Milkcrate claims that adidas – which “clearly values and covets Milkcrate and evidently thinks Milkcrate is so cool that it is once again … ripping-off Milkcrate’s name and logo” – is “arrogantly acting as if this blatant infringement is simply a cost of doing business and is exploiting [Milkcrate’s] work without providing proper credit nor compensation for the use of the designs [Milkcrate Athletics founder Aaron LaCrate] created and owns.” 

Milkcrate’s trademarks

Milkcrate argues that adidas and the other defendants are “causing substantial confusion and deception among consumers” due to their unauthorized use of the Milkcrate name and logos, while also “diluting the distinctive quality of [Milkcrate’s] marks,” which is resulting in “irreparable injury to [Milkcrate’s] valuable reputation, goodwill, trademark, name and other intellectual property assets,” including “blurring and tarnishing of its trademarks, loss of control over its reputation and loss of goodwill.” 

Speaking specifically to its dilution claims, in addition to documenting its many famous fans, collaborations, the media attention that has been enjoyed by its marks, and the attempts by others, such as adidas, Under Armour, and The Brooklyn Nets “to co-opt Milkcrate’s iconic name and image to give their goods the ‘cool kids’ sizzle/cache,” Milkcrate asserts that adidas’ use of its marks is “blurring the identity between the Milkcrate trademarks and its goods or otherwise lessening the capacity of [the] Milkcrate trademarks to exclusively identify [Milkcrate] and its goods and/or by tarnishing the positive associations represented by [the] Milkcrate trademarks.” 

With the foregoing in mind, Milkcrate sets out claims of copyright and trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and trademark dilution, among others, and is seeking injunctive relief to prevent adidas and the other defendants from using the Milkcrate name and registered trademarks and copyrights “in any way and to prevent them from profiting from [Milkcrates’s] goodwill.” The plaintiff is also seeking compensatory, treble, and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. 

A rep for adidas declined to comment on the matter.

The case is Milkcrate Athletics, Inc. v. adidas North America, Inc. et. al., 1:21-cv-06450 (SDNY).