Fila and Vibram Go Toe to Toe in Court

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When Christopher McDougall’s excellent Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen hit bookshelves back in 2009, the running world and general public was suddenly turned onto a new concept: running barefoot. As he set out to research the book, McDougall had set out to research and write about Mexico’s Tarahumara, a group that was rarely seen but known to be able to run hundreds of miles late into life wearing sandals or no shoes at all.

How did they do this while runners across the globe in their fancy techno-booster $150 running shoes were still dealing constantly with minor injuries of all sorts? McDougall traveled with a few American ultramarathoners to see if he could find out. One of those characters, Barefoot Ted, has been at the forefront of a movement of runners who believe the traditional running shoe should just be chucked out the window (or at least recycled somehow).

Barefoot Ted, as you may have guessed, generally goes shoeless when he’s running, but occasionally he has worn Vibram FiveFingers, which is basically a glove for your feet that helps protect it from sharp edges while running. Now, the brand is trying to protect itself from the sharp edges of competitors.[more]

Vibram, an Italian footwear company, is embroiled in a legal battle with competitor Fila USA over the design of Fila’s Skele-toes, a similarly toe-defining, sock-like rubber-soled running shoe that could, potentially, eat into Vibram’s market.

McDougall certainly didn’t see this kind of thing coming when he wrote about Barefoot Ted.

Fila’s toe-shoe launched with a big outdoor advertising push, as the video below shows:

The Boston Globe reports that Vibram has filed a lawsuit that claims that Fila “infringes on US patents that cover Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes.”

The suit was filed in the US District Court in Massachusetts. “Vibram pioneered the minimalist footwear category,” Vibram USA president Tony Post said in a statement, according to the Globe. “Vibram innovated the technology and earned the patents. With our success, copyists and counterfeiters have come out of the woodwork.” 

Fila, as you may have guessed, isn’t toeing that line. A statement provided to brandchannel by a company spokesperson responds:

Fila USA, Inc. announced today that the company will vigorously defend itself against the complaint filed on July 6, 2011 by Vibram S.p.A. and Vibram USA Inc. in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts alleging that Fila USA Inc.’s Skele-toes™ line of footwear infringes three patents. Fila has reviewed the allegations in Vibram’s complaint and has determined that they are without merit. Prior to developing and releasing this line of footwear in February 2011, Fila determined that the Skele-Toes shoes did not infringe any existing patents including those owned by Vibram. Though Vibram is generally credited with launching the minimalist trend in the footwear industry, Fila Skele-Toes joins a long history of shoes with articulated toes and represents a more accessible approach to this rapidly expanding minimalist footwear category.

Below, Wired‘s 2009 review of Vibram’s five-toed shoe and below that, BirthdayShoes.com’s 2011 review of Fila’s four-toed (because of patents?) model:

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