Under Armour is suing Nike, alleging that its chief competitor is illegally using a version of the Baltimore sports apparel company's new primary slogan, "I Will."
The suit, which the company said it filed Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeks to force Nike to stop using any form of that phrase and asks for unspecified punitive damages for trademark infringement and unfair competition.
According to a copy of the suit provided by Under Armour, the complaint shows several instances of ads Nike placed on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter beginning late last year using slogans that all begin with "I will." Text running over the arm of a basketball player dunking a ball reads, "I will finish what I started." Runners can be seen standing at the starting line in another ad behind the words "I will sweat while they sleep."
Lawyers for Under Armour also accuse Nike of trying to cause consumer confusion by using language that approximates the iconic "Protect this house" campaign that helped propel founder Kevin Plank's company into the mainstream. Another basketball ad reads, "I will protect my home court."
Nike spokeswoman Mary Remuzzi declined to comment on the lawsuit late Thursday.
In a statement, Under Armour said: "The I WILL trademark is one of the cornerstone symbols of our company and its products and services, and has been for many years. We have initiated a lawsuit against Nike, Inc. based on its infringement of Under Armour's federally registered I WILL trademark. We prefer to battle our competitors in the marketplace and on the field of play with our game-changing innovative products, but we will defend ourselves whenever necessary to protect what we've worked so hard to build. We will not allow a competitor to blatantly infringe upon our established trademark rights."
Under Armour said that its rights to "I Will" date back to 1998 and that it has used the slogan in connection with hundreds of products, in TV commercials and on billboards. It called the phrase "a centerpiece of its brand identity" in the lawsuit. The first "I Will" trademark dates to 2000, and Under Armour filed for multiple trademarks on the phrase last May.
Last week, it introduced what it has called its largest marketing push to date and based it around "I Will," which analysts believe will better resonate with a broader range of consumers.
Plank has said he hopes to challenge Nike — which earned $25 billion last year compared with Under Armour's $1.8 billion — and often pokes fun at his company's rival, once joking that he'd like to see
throw his Team USA-issued Nike gear into the Inner Harbor. This is the first time Under Armour has sued Nike, though.
In 2003, Nike sued Under Armour, alleging that its moisture-wicking apparel infringed on Nike's trademarked Dri-Fit style of clothing. The lawsuit also claimed Under Armour had registered several website URLs with various spellings of "Dri-Fit" and had them all redirect to the Under Armour website.
The case was ultimately dismissed by a federal judge.