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Kawhi Leonard vs. Nike

Updated: May 9, 2022

Kawhi takes an L in the courtroom against Nike over Klaw logo.

(Pictured: Kawhi Leonard)

Since 2019, there has been an ongoing battle between Kawhi and Nike regarding the Klaw logo. On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, this dispute came to an end.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled that the logo Nike designers helped create with Leonard marked an “independent piece of intellectual property’’ that was distinct from the original sketch Leonard initially conceived and shared with Nike. The judge stated,

It’s not merely a derivative work of the sketch itself. I do find it to be new and significantly different from the design.''

Ok. Let me give you some background...

While in college, Kawhi drew a rough draft of a logo. The design included his large hands, his initials “KL”, and his jersey number, 2. He sent it over to Nike, whom he had an endorsement deal with. Nike relied on Kawhi’s design to develop variations of the logo and later sold apparel and footwear featuring the Klaw logo. In 2018, Kawhi terminated his endorsement contract with Nike and signed a new endorsement contract with New Balance. Along with his brand, Kawhi wanted to take the design with him to New Balance. However, Nike had already taken legal procedures to copyright the logo.

Kawhi alleged that Nike unlawfully copyrighted his personal logo. He demanded a court declaration that he was the sole author of the logo and that Nike engaged in fraud by registering what he regards as “his” logo with the U.S. Copyright Office. Nike countersued Kawhi for copyright infringement, breach of contract and fraud. They argued that their logo was sufficiently different and superior than the one Kawhi envisioned.

Here are the designs in question:

There is room for debate on whether Nike’s design is a derivative of Kawhi's rough draft. Both of the images have a design of a hand, a similar position of hand, the number “2”, and a “KL” is present. However, one could argue Nike’s design is not a derivative of Kawhi’s rough draft because of the difference of hand size, the way the number 2 is depicted and its overall style. Because of the differences, Nike’s argument was favorable. According to Judge Mosman, Nike’s design is “new and significantly different” from the sketch Leonard drew as a college student.

As of now, the Klaw logo is Nike’s property and thus disallows Kawhi from using it in further endorsement deals. However, Kawhi can appeal if he chooses to do so. Kawhi’s attorney stated, “Kawhi put his heart and soul into that design so we are obviously disappointed the judge ruled the logo belongs to Nike and not Kawhi”.

To put work into something and not receive the predicted outcome can be disheartening. That is why this lawsuit shows the importance of protecting our intellectual property. Intellectual property is just a fancy word for creations of the mind, which includes designs, logos, inventions, names, literary and artistic works that are lawfully protected.

No matter whether you are the NBA’s Most Valuable Player or a small business owner, it is important to seek legal protection of our brands!

Until next time,

Lawyer Jas


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