British Columbia

Lululemon accuses Peloton of being a 'copycat' as fitness giants trade lawsuits

An alliance between fitness giants has dissolved into a nasty court battle as Lululemon and Peloton traded lawsuits this week in a fight over alleged patent infringement.

Peloton launched surprise salvo in U.S. court battle after Canadian company sent warning letter

This image is included in a lawsuit filed by Lululemon against Peloton. The company claims that the average customer will not be able to tell their products apart. (U.S. District Court)

It began as a partnership between two of the biggest names in home fitness: B.C.-based clothing retailer Lululemon and U.S. exercise bike juggernaut Peloton.

But a co-branding deal between the two companies has dissolved into a cross-continent legal battle rooted in what Lululemon claims are Peloton's "copycat" versions of some of its most popular so-called "athleisure" products.

In court documents filled with patterns of sports bras and leggings, Lululemon filed a claim in California district court Tuesday accusing Peloton of patent infringement.

The move came just five days after Peloton filed a suit of its own — in anticipation — asking a judge in New York to conclude that no such patent infringement had ever happened.

None of the claims have been proven in court.

"Unlike innovators such as Lululemon, Peloton did not spend the time, effort, and expense to create an original product line," the Lululemon lawsuit reads.

"Instead, Peloton imitated several of Lululemon's innovative designs and sold knock-offs of Lululemon's products, claiming them as its own."

Back and forth claims

According to court documents, the two companies reached a deal in 2016 allowing Peloton to put its logo alongside Lululemon's on certain Lululemon products that were then sold through Peloton's retail outfits.

But Peloton claims the arrangement was  "burdensome and time-intensive," leading the company to end the partnership and develop "its own private label brand of fitness apparel."

But Lululemon claims a number of those new Peloton products looked awfully familiar.

On Nov. 11, the Canadian company sent Peloton a cease-and-desist letter asking the company to "immediately stop selling its copy-cat product" — pointing to Peloton's Strappy Bra, Cadent Laser Dot Legging, Cadent Laser Dot Bra, High Neck Bra and Cadent Peak Bra. 

This image shows Peloton's pants compared to Lululemon's iconic Align leggings. Lululemon claims Peloton is being a copycat. (Southern District of New York)

Lululemon also claims Peloton's One Luxe tights is "another imitation of a Lululemon product as it copies ... Lululemon's Align pant, which is one of Lululemon's all-time best-selling products."

According to the Lululemon lawsuit, Peloton said it needed until Nov. 24 to respond to the accusations.

But instead of a letter back, Peloton filed its own lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, citing Lululemon's "baseless threats" and asking a judge to declare that the company had done nothing wrong.

'Athleisure pants can have many different forms'

Each side lays out its version of events in filings that are as boastful as they are catty.

Lululemon describes itself as a "good corporate citizen" victimized by "blatant misappropriation."

Meanwhile, Peloton says elements of the designs in question were known to the world long before Lululemon slapped a patent on them. As an example, Peloton points to a Sweaty Betty sports bra from 2015 and a Lululemon patent on a similar product in 2017. 

In this image from Peloton's court filings, Peloton points to similarities between a Sweaty Betty sports bra from 2015 and a patent on a product obtained by Lululemon in 2017. (Southern District of New York)

And when it comes to the company's legendary Align leggings, Peloton claims: "Almost every retailer in the active wear market offers a similar legging with a banded waist."

The Peloton court documents include pictures of its products laid out alongside diagrams of the patents the company is alleged to have infringed.

In the case of the Strappy Bra, Peloton claims its product "is cut straight across and includes a mesh layer" whereas the Lululemon designs "have a scooped back and do not include a mesh layer."

Lululemon's claim also features pictures of the two products side-by-side.

"In the eye of an ordinary observer, giving such attention as a purchaser usually gives, the design of [Peloton's] Strappy Bra is substantially the same as the claimed designs," the claim reads.

"The resemblance is such as to deceive such an observer inducing them to purchase one supposing it to be the other."

Parts of both lawsuits centre around Lululemon's Align leggings, which the Canadian company says are sold around the world and have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue.

Lululemon insists that the waistband and stitching on its tight "athleisure" pants is distinctive but "not essential to the function of the product," claiming that the design is what sets its leggings apart in the minds of customers.

"Athleisure pants can have many different forms, styles, and shapes. There are numerous alternative shapes and designs for athleisure pants," the lawsuit reads.

By contrast Peloton claims "the pattern for Lululemon's Align pant is not sufficiently distinctive from the multitude of other products on the market."

The exercise bike company says the only distinctive feature of the Align pant is the Lululemon logo on the back of the waistband.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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