7 September 2021TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Keds sues Hanes over ‘Champion’ trademark

Shoe company Keds has sued competitor Hanes in the latest development in a bitter dispute over the licensing of the ‘Champion’ trademark in the US.

Keds filed the complaint at the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts on September 2, accusing the clothing manufacturer of breaching a decades-old licensing agreement and launching “baseless” litigation in a bid to “extort” better contract terms.

Hanes sued Keds in July 2020 at a federal court in Boston, accusing the Massachusetts-based company of failing to live up to the terms of an amendment to the agreement or of engaging in a promised renegotiation of the disputed agreement.

In May 2021, that court issued a detailed, 19-page memorandum and order granting Keds’ motion to dismiss and rejecting Hanes’ lawsuit in its entirety, but Hanes appealed a month later.


The origins of the dispute date back to 1987, when Maryland-based Hanes sought to expand its offerings under the Champion brand from apparel to athletic footwear. As Keds owned the rights to ‘Champion’ in connection with all footwear in the US and Canada, Hanes negotiated a licence with Keds so that it could sell athletic footwear under the Champion brand.

But in its complaint this week Keds alleged that Hanes had long been dissatisfied with the arrangement and that “the ink had barely dried” on the licensing agreement when Hanes began to regret the deal it had signed.

It further alleged that “over the years, Hanes repeatedly complained to Keds about the royalty rates it had agreed to pay to Keds, the approval rights the parties had negotiated at arms-length, and the scope of the license Keds had granted to Hanes”.

Keds contended that the agreement enabled Hanes to generate tens of millions of dollars in profits over the past three decades, but now the company has “concocted a scheme to leverage and coerce Keds into renegotiating the agreement by knowingly and wrongfully filing a meritless federal court lawsuit”.

Keds added that  Hanes’ scheme is a “quintessential unfair and deceptive practice” and that its lawsuit had been coupled with a media campaign designed to disparage Keds and put further pressure on Keds to renegotiate, while also irreparably damaging its goodwill and reputation.

Hanes’ improper attempt to use the federal courts as a tool to renegotiate the licensing terms has left Keds with no choice but to terminate the agreement, according to the complaint.

Keds alleged that it has been “robbed” of the benefit of its bargain to the tune of millions of dollars in royalties and that Hanes’ actions has ruined what was once a “golden opportunity” for Hanes to licence Keds’ highly valued trademark.

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