New Balance wins $1.5M lawsuit in design war with knockoff New Barlun

The legal battle between New Balance and New Barlun came down to one letter: an italicized "N."

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The Pudong New Area People's court in Shanghai officially ruled in favor of New Balance and against New Barlun on Thursday, The China Daily reports. Both athletics companies were involved in a tense legal dispute over the "N" logo.

New Balance accused New Barlun (yes, the titles get confusing) of trademark infringement, alleging that New Barlun's extremely similar use of "N" could mislead consumers by appropriating the former's industrial and social influence. The company ultimately won $1.5 million as a result of the case.

The visually confusing and legally questionable "N" — As The Fashion Law reports, the court found New Barlun's use of "N" — which is only ever so slightly different than New Balance's signature italic "N" — to be misleading to consumers. The website notes that the court claimed "the relevant public has sufficiently associated the products decorated with 'N' letters on both sides of the athletic shoes with the 'New Balance.'" The near identical nature of New Barlun's "N" aligns closely with New Balance's footwear and could funnel consumers over to the other side.

It's a well-earned lesson not only in unfair market competition but design as well. When you see the company logos side-by-side it's clear just how easy it would be for a consumer to mistake one brand for the other.

Here's another visual juxtaposition from Schwegman, Lundberg, and Woessner firm's attorney and director of China intellectual property practice, Aaron Wininger. According to Wininger, the use of a similar logo ultimately "causes consumers to confuse and misidentify the source of the goods, which violates the principles of good faith and recognized business ethics and constitutes unfair competition."

Here's another example.

As a result of the case, New Barlun will have to issue a public clarification and halt any sort of production involving the "N" logo.

As for New Balance, these trademark wars are nothing new and likely won't stop other manufacturers from riding on its coattails. In 2017, in case people forgot, the company successfully sued three Chinese shoemakers for a similar trademark issue. Nothing new.