In a true David vs. Goliath battle, Nike, the global retail and marketing giant, is suing CrossFit City Place, an affiliate in West Palm Beach, FL for attempting to trademark its box logo as it is too similar to Nike’s “Jumpman” logo.
Nike has filed an action against the gym with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because, per the Palm Beach Post:
“Nike says the CityPlace CrossFit logo will create confusion with the public, causing the sneaker maker “grave and irreparable damage.”
Confusing eh? Well the Jumpman logo, one of the most recognizable logos in all of sport (that has been used since 1985), is a silhouette of Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. The CrossFit City Place logo depicts gym owner Matt Brewster performing a one-arm handstand on a kettlebell—upside down, obviously. But according to Brewster, the City Place logo (and the story behind it) is unique.
“In 2011 we posted a picture to our Facebook account when we were at our first location for the box. It’s actually a picture of me doing a handstand on a kettlebell,” says Brewster. “So when we were in the process of moving to our new location we were looking to change the logo, the color scheme of the gym—essentially we were looking to create a brand new gym with the same name. But we thought the picture looked really cool and we have this saying at the box, “living the logo”—we take the time in classes to try and teach members how to perform a one-handed handstand. So about two years ago that became our official logo, even though we were doing that movement at the gym all the time prior to that. And that’s why this move from Nike is so surprising to me, because not once did a member even mention anything about Nike when we were doing it—it’s just a one-handed handstand on a kettlebell. That’s where it came from, and that’s why we created the logo.”
However, Nike didn’t see it that way. Brewster and his team from CF City Place had already had their trademark approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and were in the final stages of processing the logo when Nike stepped in.
“Nike basically said, “We’re against this”, but we told them that we weren’t doing anything wrong because the USPTO has already approved it, so we were going to continue with what we were doing,” Brewster says. “At that point, we got a cease and desist from Nike, and a couple of weeks later they filled an official opposition.”
One might argue that there are similarities between the two logos, specifically in regards to body positioning. But then again, anyone who has ever done a one-armed handstand might easily look like an upside-down Jordan. What makes Nike’s move all the more curious is that they have recently made a foray into the functional fitness world by sponsoring the CrossFit Invictus team and producing advertisements with Kenny Leverich. However Brewster says that Nike’s official opposition was more expansive than solely focusing on the positioning of the figures in the logo.
“First of all, that’s not the way trademarks work. A ‘W’ and a ‘M’ are different letters and will always be different letters—you can’t just flip one over and say, “oh that looks the same now.” That’s the natural reaction to this whole thing, but that’s also why we know what we’re doing is ok, because that’s not how the whole process goes,” says Brewster. “They [Nike] said some things like we’re trying to act like we “know” Michael Jordan, which is laughable. That move [on the logo] has always been a one-handed handstand to all of our members. We’ve had people tag us online doing the handstand from all over the world for years as part of the “living the logo” mentality we have, so it’s kind of laughable that they would compare that to acting as if we knew Jordan.”
Michael Pike, one of Brewster’s lawyers, echoes his thoughts:
“Nike cannot manipulate the mark by turning it upright and then claiming that our upside-down handstand resembles a jump-man, i.e. Michael Jordan,” Pike told the Palm Beach Post. “And with all due respect to Michael Jordan, I’ve never seen Michael Jordan slam dunk a 70-pound kettle bell upside down.”
In spite of what will likely be an immense amount of pressure from Nike, Brewster says that they (CF City Place) won’t be intimidated, and will continue to use the logo as he sees fit. He says that he and the CF City Place community has received a ton of support from the wider affiliate community, and CrossFit HQ posted the news story to their own social media channels.
“There’s been numerous occasions where a small company like ours (his affiliate) has been approached by a much larger, much more powerful company that has a problem with something the smaller company is doing. It might be the logo, it might be the slogan, but the knee jerk reaction is to say, “Holy crap it’s Nike, we better just stop what we’re doing. But we’re not doing anything wrong, so we’re not going to cower to the larger company just because they said we should.”