Vibram Sued for Using Runner's Name

Family of Abebe Bikila claims improper trademark

Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic Marathon while running barefoot. He died in 1973. (Wikimedia Commons)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Vibram is in legal trouble again. The minimalist shoe company, which settled a class action lawsuit in May for overreaching in its advertising claims, is being sued by the family of the late Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila for allegedly using his name without permission.

Bikila, who died in 1973, is famous for his victory at the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome, in which he ran barefoot and broke the existing Olympic record with a time of 2:15. He took gold again in Tokyo four years later but wore shoes that time.

Bikila’s family is seeking $15 million in damages, according to Runner’s World. As minimalist running became more popular in the United States, Vibram named some of its shoes after Bikila. His family claims that Vibram trademarked the name Bikila in 2010 without asking for the family’s permission. The family filed the lawsuit Monday in federal court in Tacoma, Washington, claiming the company violated federal law and Washington’s Personality Rights Act, which allows heirs of a deceased person to continue to assert personality rights.

Vibram has not commented on the case, but Seattle trademark lawyer Michael Atkins, who is not involved with the case, told the AP that the family has a strong claim. “The personal rights statute says every person has a right to control their own name,” Atkins said. “Whether you’re a celebrity or an ordinary Joe, no one can use your name to promote their product without your permission.”

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