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Brooks Brothers Risks Sneaker Branding War With Berkshire Firm

Gerald Porter Jr.

(Bloomberg) -- Brooks Brothers is trying to drop the sibling reference from some of its branding -- and is rattling a 40-year truce in the process.

The apparel company, which dates back to 1818 and dressed U.S. presidents including John F. Kennedy, recently expanded into athletic shoes and sneakers. Brooks Brothers applied to register the “Brooks” trademark -- without the accompanying “Brothers” -- in connection with athletic footwear, sport bags, and related goods in late 2019.

The move has irked the similarly named Brooks Sports Inc., a seller of running shoes and performance apparel owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Brooks Sports says the apparel maker is creating customer confusion and diluting its brand which dates back to 1914. It’s also breaching a coexistence trademark agreement aimed at distinguishing the two companies that’s been in place since 1980.

Brooks Sports filed a lawsuit against Brooks Brothers for breach of contract, unfair competition and trademark infringement.

“For more than 100 years we’ve built a brand that consumers worldwide recognize and trust,” Jim Weber, Brooks Sports chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We will aggressively protect our intellectual property and defend the investment that’s created our valuable brand.”

Blocked Trademarks

Brooks Brothers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Brooks Sports, which has its headquarters in Seattle, Brooks Brothers recently tried to stop the shoe company from obtaining registrations for its Brooks trademark in the U.S. and other countries.

Brooks Sports also said that Brooks Brothers filed its new trademark application to use the Brooks name on eight categories of goods including clothing and sporting products. It’s also marketing athletic footwear and sneakers and seeking to do so under the singular Brooks name, it said.

Brooks Sports “is second to only Nike Inc.” in terms of apparel sales at specialty running stores, according to the lawsuit.

The two companies have “coexisted for more than 100 years without confusion due to their distinct product lines and trademarks.” Meanwhile fashion -- including for business casual settings -- has shifted toward active lifestyle and athletic-inspired, according to the lawsuit.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gerald Porter Jr. in New York at gporter30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sally Bakewell at sbakewell1@bloomberg.net, Lisa Wolfson

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