Almost one year ago, Kobe Bryant’s contract with Nike expired after 18 years together. Unfortunately, Nike and Vanessa Bryant could not come to an agreement. According to a source, “Bryant and the estate had grown frustrated with Nike limiting the availability of Kobe products during his retirement and after his January 2020 death in a helicopter crash. There was also frustration with Nike when they presented an extension offer that was not in line with expectations of an ongoing "lifetime" structure like contracts held by both Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Luckily for basketball and sneaker fans, Bryant and Nike are back together. Vanessa Bryant made the announcement via her Instagram page, stating that the two sides had come to an agreement on a deal that will allow Kobe-branded Nike products to be produced again along with Gigi Bryant-branded Nike products as well. Also, Nike will donate 100 percent of the net proceeds of the sales of Gianna's shoes to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
When people ask why it took both sides so long to come to an agreement, part of the reason could have been intellectual property. “A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. A registered trademark is how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.” The good or service could be put into a selection of 45 different classes such as food services, computer and scientific devices, and education and technology services. The owner of that goods or services can stop others from using a similar logo or design for that specific class once it is registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Once a trademark registration is granted by the USPTO, if it is still in use after the first five to six years then the registration can be renewed. After that the filing needs to be renewed every ten years. However, if you shut down your business or stop offering your goods or services before then, the trademark will be considered abandoned from a legal perspective as it is no longer in use. Another party can have your registration canceled on the grounds that you were no longer using it.
After the passing of Kobe and Gigi the Bryant estate filed numerous trademarks such as, “Mamba Forever, Mambacita, Mamba Sports Academy, and Baby Mambas. It is more than likely that Nike and the Bryant estate paused negotiations for a year to let all the new trademarks be filed. From there they could easily negotiate and plan what new products to produce. Some of the trademarks such as “In Memory of Kobe Bryant,” “Mamba Mambacita Sports Foundation,” and “Mambacita” were filed only a few weeks prior to the new Nike deal. This is not a coincidence and truly shows how important trademarks are in any sports deal. Luckily for fans on May 1st, 2022, Nike is releasing the first new shoe from the partnership. That date would have been Gigi Bryant’s 16th birthday. Fortunately, the deal was done in time to commemorate Kobe and Gigi, and gives fans another chance to own shoes that they have loved for years.
Chris D'Avanzo is a 2L at Hofstra Law School and can be found on Twitter @_chrisdavanzo.