In the world of fashion knockoffs, imitation is a form of flattery. Then there is Adidas' smackdown of Payless ShoeSource.
The world's second-biggest sports shoemaker just won $305-million from the nation's largest shoe chain in the fattest intellectual property judgment ever.
The case gives the shakes to retailers who sell copies of what they think are ubiquitous sneaker designs at a fraction of the price.
What makes the case stand out: Payless tried two- and four-stripe logos to get around Adidas' trademarked triple stripe.
A jury in Portland, Ore., nailed Payless for copying the Adidas trade dress (an overall "look" built over years) down to such features as flat-soles, a rubber toe and a colored heel pad.
"The jury gave an extraordinary reward because it was so deliberate — they copied big sellers and obscure," said Susan Scafidi, who teaches fashion law at Fordham University.
Indeed, Payless, based in Kansas, pocketed $400-million from 250 Adidas knockoff styles in two years. Payless says it will fight the judgment.
Apparel and shoe companies sue one another all the time for ripping off trade dress. But it's testament to the power of brand names that jurors unanimously backed Adidas. Given a choice between cheap copies and high-priced originals, they chose a promise of brand quality.
Payless is one in a string of retailers Adidas challenged. Don't expect a jury to hear another case. Kmart settled a week later. Wal-Mart goes to trial this fall. Perhaps K-Swiss, which makes a five-stripe sneaker similar to Adidas, should lawyer up.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.