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Shoe companies lace up for battle

Puma and K-Swiss Inc. are tied up in a growing dispute over shoelace-holding methods that could land the footwear companies in a Los Angeles courtroom.

K-Swiss, based in Westlake Village, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last week against Puma, asking a judge to rule that K-Swiss’ trademarked system of lacing a shoe was valid.

In a March letter to K-Swiss, Puma threatened a suit of its own if K-Swiss didn’t stop selling and marketing the Dolton shoe, which the German firm argued copied its trademarked “formstrip” design seen on the side of most of its shoes.

The K-Swiss Dolton features an eyelet strip, which runs in a color block down the side of the shoe and to the sole.

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But, the K-Swiss suit contends, the dispute isn’t really about trademark infringement; it arose because Puma executives were angry that two of the company’s employees, a shoe designer and a marketing person, left to work at K-Swiss.

“In response to this loss, Puma AG, in bad faith, concocted its plan to assert trademark infringement claims against K-Swiss,” the suit said.

The Dolton was introduced in late 2008, the suit said, and the two former Puma employees were hired by K-Swiss after the Dolton was designed.

K-Swiss said it filed the April 30 lawsuit to clear itself of Puma’s trademark infringement allegations, and court documents give examples of similar eyelet strips in shoes from Nike, Vans and Adidas. “K-Swiss’ use of the eyelet strip as an integral part of the lacing system for its footwear is a fair use,” the suit said.

Puma did not respond to requests for comment.

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nathan.olivarezgiles @latimes.com


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