Brooks Brothers calls itself the oldest men’s clothier in the United States, tracing its origins to 1818. The very name brings forth images of debonnaire men in well-tailored suits.
But to Brooks Sports — whose Fremont headquarters is marked by the statue of a female runner with arms upraised, crossing an imaginary finish line — the Manhattan-based Brooks Brothers is an unwelcome newcomer in the world of athletic wear.
The Seattle company, itself more than a century old, has sued Brooks Brothers in federal court here, contending the latter is trespassing on its trademarks and violating an agreement the companies struck 40 years ago to stay in their own lanes.
Brooks Sports’ lawsuit strikes an almost condescending tone in narrating what sparked the litigation. The market for “traditional suits, ties, and ready-to-wear and tailored clothing” has been eroding, while “fashion has evolved toward active lifestyle and athletic-inspired footwear and apparel for everyday wear,” it asserts.
Consequently, the suit says, Brooks Brothers is pursuing “consumers who are less interested in the traditional clothing products for which Brooks Brothers has been known for so many years.”
In December, Brooks Brothers filed a new trademark application to use simply “Brooks” on clothing, sporting goods and accessories for athletics, and retail stores. And since 2018, according to the suit, Brooks Brothers has been selling athletic footwear such as “Sporty Sneakers,” with indications that it aims to expand into other sports apparel.
The Brooks Sports lawsuit, employing an appropriate metaphor, says those moves are an attempt to “ride on Brooks’ coattails.”
There’s big money also riding on those coattails, apparently. The suit says Brooks Sports products sold at retail amounted to $1.2 billion last year. Its running shoes have been the top-selling brand in specialty running stores since 2011, and it had 19% of apparel sales at such stores last year, second only to Nike, according to the suit.
Brooks Brothers, meanwhile, has more than 200 stores worldwide, including a downtown Seattle location.
Under an agreement the two companies reached in 1980 after several years of legal sparring, the suit says Brooks Brothers agreed that Brooks Sports could use Brooks labeling “for all athletic and athletic-related clothing, with a narrow exception for golf-related clothing.” Brooks Brothers, meanwhile, could use Brooks Brothers labeling on other clothing “with an exception for golf polo shirts.”
But this truce broke down after Brooks Sports formally applied for a trademark to use “Brooks” on athletic footwear and clothing — as distinct from merely an agreement between the two companies. Brooks Brothers objected. Then Brooks Brothers filed its own trademark application to use “Brooks.” Brooks Sports contends that breached their 1980 agreement.
Now, it seeks a court ruling that Brooks Sports has the exclusive right to use “Brooks” on athletic footwear, apparel and accessories, and in retail and online stores selling those products.
Brooks Brothers should also “recall and destroy” any products that violate the agreement, along with signs and other materials that could confuse consumers, the lawsuit demands. And it seeks an order that Brooks Brothers run “corrective advertisements” to “ameliorate the false and deceptive impressions” caused by its alleged violations, and that Brooks Brothers turn over all profits from those products. No specific amounts are given.
Brooks Brothers has not filed an answer yet to the Feb. 10 lawsuit, and the company’s legal department did not respond to a request for comment.