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Shoe wars // Nike claims L.A. Gear copied design

Nike Inc. officials said they weren't flattered when they first saw L.A. Gear Inc.'s MVP-1 shoe, which they maintain is an imitation of their popular Air Jordan basketball shoe. Nike filed suit against L.A. Gear in U.S. District Court here on Thursday, maintaining that L.A. Gear copied the Air Jordan design.

The suit alleging patent infringement and unfair competition also contends L.A. Gear copied the Nike-style sole for the MVP-1 and five other shoes.

"Imitation can be a form of flattery, but this crosses the line," said Lindsay Stewart, an attorney for the Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, the nation's top athletic shoemaker.

Gil N. Schwartzberg, chief administrative officer for L.A. Gear, denied the company copied Nike designs. He speculated Nike's lawsuit may be motivated by L.A. Gear's aggressive entry into the men's shoe market.

"When you're talking about basketball shoes, they all look somewhat similar to one another," he said. "There are a lot of shoes out there that look a lot more like the Air Jordan, but we're the one they sue."

The Air Jordan is among Nike's top-selling shoes, generating $45-million in revenue for Nike since September 1988. It is named after Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan.