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Kawhi Leonard is heading to Oakland after he and his Toronto Raptors dropped game two of the NBA Finals to the Warriors on Sunday. And he also may be heading to court, to "claw back" his Klaw logo from Nike.
According to a lawsuit filed in California on Monday, Nike applied to copyright Leonard's hand-drawn logo while he was a client, without his consent. Now that Leonard has signed a new deal with New Balance and presumably wants to take the logo with him, it may take some legal wrangling to do so.
"In 2011, just after being drafted to the National Basketball Association, Kawhi Leonard authored a unique logo that included elements that were meaningful and unique to him," according to his lawsuit. "Leonard traced his notably large hand, and, inside the hand, drew stylized versions of his initials 'KL' and the number that he had worn for much of his career, '2.'"
After signing with Nike, Leonard allowed the brand to use the logo on some of its merchandise, and he continued to use it on non-Nike goods. "Unbeknownst to Leonard and without his consent," the suit claims, "Nike filed an application for copyright registration of his logo and falsely represented in the application that Nike had authored the logo." Leonard is looking for sole authorship of the Klaw logo, and a ruling that Nike committed fraud on the Copyright Office in attempting to register the logo. Beyond his New Balance contract, Leonard is looking to reclaim the logo to use on his own clothing lines, sports camps, and charity functions.
Nike has yet to comment on the litigation, but Leonard claims he and the company have been negotiating for months regarding the use of the logo. Nike allegedly told him in March that "it owns all intellectual property rights in the Leonard Logo" and demanded that Leonard "immediately cease and desist from what Nike claimed was the unauthorized use of the Leonard Logo."
Whatever the result in legal courts, however, Nike may lose the battle in the court of public opinion. "Even if Nike were legally in the right," points out Baruch College law professor Marc Edelman, "the mere fact that a brand that relies so heavily on elite commercial athletes would attempt to prevent one of its former partner athletes from marketing his own license will make it far more difficult for Nike to sign endorsement deals with athletes in the future. The NBA is a small, close knit league and picking a battle of this nature against one of the elite athletes seems like a fool-hearted move."
Of course, the court Leonard is most concerned with right now is Oracle Arena, in Oakland. The Raptors are tied 1-1 with the Warriors in the Finals and play game 3 tomorrow night.