South Florida

Art Basel sues adidas, saying free sneakers sullied fair’s trademark

The limited edition “Art Basel” adidas sneaker, shown here in a court filing. Art Basel, the annual Miami art fair, is suing adidas for trademark infringement.
The limited edition “Art Basel” adidas sneaker, shown here in a court filing. Art Basel, the annual Miami art fair, is suing adidas for trademark infringement. U.S. court filing

Unveiled by rows of choreographed dancers, 1,000 pairs of limited edition “Art Basel” adidas sneakers were given away for free during a promotion surrounding the annual high-end art event in Miami last year.

The organizers of Art Basel, it turns out, were not amused.

The fair’s company has sued the sneaker giant for trademark infringement, arguing that the free sneakers had sullied Art Basel’s image. In a federal lawsuit filed this week in South Florida U.S. district court, Art Basel also argues that the shoemaker — which featured the sneakers in a series of sponsored events in November and December — never had permission to use the fair’s name, which is stitched into the tongue of the shoes.

The shoes, though never sold directly by adidas, have nonetheless found a market among sneakerheads. Some are selling for up to $250 online.

“The infringing sneakers have been, and continue to be, offered for sale and sold on eBay,” Art Basel’s Miami lawyer, Joseph Englander, wrote in the suit. The suit seeks to stop adidas from using the Art Basel name, and to destroy all remaining shoes — and to pay damages for “diluting” the trademark.

An adidas spokeswoman declined to comment.

The suit includes photos of the shoes, marketed on one of the the company’s Twitter feeds. Several images depict the dancers wearing the sneakers at two South Florida events.

Art Basel and satellite fairs drew tens of thousands of visitors to Miami last year, with many coming for the quirky exhibits and parties surrounding the event, plus the celebrity sightings.

In its lawsuit, Art Basel notes how its trademark has built up “extremely valuable goodwill” and a “high degree of consumer recognition” since its inaugural event in 2003. It also gushes about its “unsolicited media coverage,” including articles from Forbes, the New York Times and Cosmopolitan.

“The New York Times alone has featured Art Basel in dozens of articles since as early as 2002,” the lawsuit said.

Adidas added the words “Art Basel” to the tongue of its popular EQT shoe. Art Basel says that “deliberately misrepresents an association, show partner, sponsorship or other affiliation” between the two companies.

The lawsuit also blasts adidas for contacting journalists to write about the shoe. The court filing includes links to four online websites devoted to sneaker enthusiasts.

A spokesperson for Art Basel said: “The complaint speaks for itself.”

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