handelsblatt global edition article 388171 2015 12 07 (PDF)

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The Voice of Europe‘s Leading Economy

NO. 322 · MONDAY, DECEMBER 07, 2015


Old Grudges Die Hard

Adidas and Puma are battling for control of a design that could revolutionize athletic shoes
and generate billions of euros in new sales. The arch-rivals have accused each other of stealing intellectual property in a tit-for-tat court battle.



Whoever has a leg up on shoe designs using the new eTPU material will likely have a competitive
advantage in the future.

Puma began developing eTPU
soled shoes with BASF in 2009
and patented four designs.


t’s a rivalry that dates back more
than 60 years.

Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, brothers
and business partners, had a falling
out and founded rival shoe companies – Adidas and Puma. The Dasslers
never reconciled and decades later,

In 2011, BASF switched to Puma
arch-rival Adidas. In 2013, Adidas
brought an eTPU soled running

Adidas and Puma, both based in the
tiny Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach, are at each others throats like
never before.
Puma has sued Adidas for allegedly
using a patented design as the basis
for its Boost running shoe. Adidas

shoe called Boost to stores in
Puma has accused Adidas of
copying its design and the two
have been battling in court ever

has returned the favor, Jling a lawsuit
in Düsseldorf to stop the sale of
Puma’s NRGY running shoe.
The battle is over the shoes’ soles –
they’re made from a new material
that could revolutionize the entire
athletic shoe industry.

In 2009, Puma began cooperating
with the chemicals company BASF to
develop a sole made from a synthetic
material called eTPU. The material,
which is manufactured by binding
small balls of foam together, is similar
to polystyrene and provides a better
cushion, releasing energy when athletes raise their feet.
“We believe it could become the new
industry standard,” Matthias Hartmann, the head of materials and
process development at Puma, told

Puma claims the sole of the Adida’ Boost shoe looks very similar to that of its NRGY shoe. Source: Getty Images

As a sports-lifestyle company, Puma
has long suHered from declining
sales and proJts. Last year, sales stagnated at €3 billion ($3.2 billion) and

The switch helped Adidas get on the
market Jrst: Working at breakneck
speed with BASF, Adidas had the
“Boost” running shoes on store

Adidas, the second-largest shoe company in the world and Jve times larger than its arch-rival. Puma Chief Executive Franz Koch had been booted

its stock price dropped by 17 percent.

shelves by early 2013.

in March of 2013 after only 18 months

The project with BASF was supposed
to breathe new life into the brand,

Last year, Adidas sold around 7 mil-

bringing Puma back to its roots with
a narrower focus on athletes and Jtness enthusiasts.

lion pairs of Boost running shoes

When Björn Gulden took over the

with eTPU, which cost up to €180 per
pair. The company is now using the

reigns at Puma, he sought to resolve
the issue through private discussions

material for basketball, golf and hik-

with Adidas, where he previously

ing shoes as well. Over the long-term,
the new material could generate bil-

worked. According to Puma, the talks
led nowhere, and in the fall of 2013,

lions in revenue.

the company sued Adidas in a Frankfurt court.

Just as Puma began Jnishing its Jrst
prototypes, however, BASF defected
to Adidas in early 2011. The switch
was perfectly legal. BASF wasn’t
bound to Puma by a contract. Puma
did, however, have exclusive rights to
four designs that it developed with
the chemicals company.
“Through BASF’s switch to Adidas,
we lost more than two years,” Mr.
Hartmann said.

We have to assume that
Adidas relied on our tools,
research and know-how.


in oIce.

Developers at Puma, however, see an
unmistakable resemblance to the
patented designs from their work
with BASF.
“We have to assume that Adidas relied on our tools, research and knowhow,” Neil Narriman, the head of intellectual property at Puma, told
One problem is that Puma is late to
the game. When the BASF switch Jrst
occurred, Puma had a leadership
vacuum and little appetite to take on

Adidas rejected the allegation that it
stole a patented Puma design, arguing that all shoe soles made of eTPU
material look similar for technical
reasons. The Frankfurt court agreed
and rejected Puma’s suit in June of
By that time, Puma had recovered
from its setback with BASF. Through
a partnership with the U.S. chemicals
company Huntsman, Puma successfully developed a pair of running

shoes with eTPU soles. “Puma NRGY”
hit the store shelves in early 2015.

company plans to appeal the Düsseldorf ruling, and Puma has already

Puma will have to wait for the time
being. The next court date in Frank-

appealed the Frankfurt ruling.

furt has been set for October 2016.

This time, Adidas took a page from

The challenge by Adidas to the Düs-

Puma’s play book, seeking an injunc-

“By making statements that were

tion from a Düsseldorf court to stop
the sale of the NRGY running shoe.

contrary to one another during the
respective proceedings in Frankfurt

Adidas used the same line of argument as Puma, with the same result:

and Düsseldorf, Adidas has caught itself in many contradictions,” said Mr.

Joachim Hofer covers the outdoor and

The court ruled the shoe wasn’t a

Narriman, Puma’s lawyer. “That’s why
we’re convinced that we have a good
chance on appeal.”

recreational industry for Handelsblatt. To contact the author:

seldorf ruling, on the other hand,
could begin just weeks or months
from now.

The battle, however, is far from over.
An Adidas spokeswoman said the


Puma Still Waiting to Pounce

The Battle of Branding



NO. 322 | 07 DECEMBER 2015

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