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Converse sues firms over trademark shoe

Converse shoes Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Converse is suing 31 companies over its famous Chuck Taylor shoe

US shoemaker Converse is suing 31 companies, arguing they are copying the design of its trademark shoe.

The company filed lawsuits against big retailers such as Wal-Mart and Ralph Lauren for allegedly selling imitations of its famous Chuck Taylor sneaker.

The lawsuits filed in New York include companies based in Canada, Australia, Italy, China and Japan.

The Nike subsidiary also wants the International Trade Commission to ban imports and sales of the shoes.

Converse chief executive Jim Calhoun said the company welcomed fair competition, but "we do not believe companies have a right to copy the Chuck's trademarked look".

Rise of the sneaker

The popularity of Converse's Chuck Taylor sneaker has skyrocketed over the decades since it was introduced on US basketball courts in 1917.

Converse says it has sold one billion pairs of the shoe around the world and spent hundred of millions of dollars advertising it.

The shoemaker also says it has served about 180 cease and desist letters to retailers selling look-a-like Chuck Taylor sneakers in the past six years to protect its brand.

Prof Polk Wagner, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, told the BBC that "it is notoriously difficult to win a trademark case in the fashion context".

"It's certainly not a slam-dunk on the part of the plaintiffs," he said.

However, Prof Wagner pointed to a case two years ago when the luxury shoemaker Louboutin successfully trademarked its distinctive red soles.

"Trademark law is all about whether the ordinary consumer would be confused as to the source of the good when they look at it.

"In order for Converse to win they would have to show that the ordinary consumer of their goods... would associate the design-oriented features of that shoe with the manufacturer of that shoe."

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