The US sportswear giant, which is under new leadership after last month's boardroom coup, is seeking millions of dollars in compensation from Adidas for ripping off designs that make its trainers look like they are balanced on little springs.
Nike said 19 separate patents protected the "technical column design features" of its Shox system, which it claims appear in several of Adidas's shoes, including a new range of trainers endorsed by the basketball star Kevin Garnett. "Despite Nike's patent protection, Adidas has built shoes that use Nike's technology," the Oregon-based company said. Adidas has dubbed its version of the design the "a3 cushioning system".
The lawsuit, filed in Texas, wants Adidas to pay damages and cover Nike's legal costs. It also seeks to stop Adidas producing any more shoes using its cushioning system. Eric Sprunk, Nike's vice president of global footwear, said the group sunk considerable investment into coming up with "performance products". The Shox system, which hit the market in 2000, took 16 years to design and "considerable financial investment" he said, adding: "It is frustrating and inappropriate when companies borrow or refashion such technologies as their own without making similar investment."
Adidas said it had received confirmation of the lawsuit and was examining the detail with its legal advisers. It declined to comment further.
If Adidas is found guilty it will be a big blow for the German company, which uses cushioning systems Nike claims infringe its patents in its most expensive men's shoe, its $250 (£144) running shoe. Adidas is desperate to close the gap with its bigger rival, last month sealing a $3.8bn deal to acquire Reebok, the former US No 2. With 28 per cent of the global athletic shoe market, Adidas is within a whisker of Nike's 31 per cent.
Nike said it has served complaints against two other companies, Air Max Import and Export Inc. and Romeo and Juliette, for allegedly infringing on its intellectual property and patents.
Mark Parker took the helm of Nike last month after Phil Knight, its founding chairman, put pressure on William Perez to quit after just 13 months as chief executive.