Barefoot Copycat: Vibram Suing Fila USA

The news that’s abuzz in the barefoot-running world this week is that Vibram S.p.A., the Italian parent of Vibram USA Inc. and manufacturer of its FiveFingers branded footwear, is suing Fila USA Inc. for patent infringement. It’s not hard to see why. Vibram owns patents that cover footwear “having individually articuable toe portions,” as seen in the company’s FiveFingers shoes, aka “VFFs.” Fila USA’s very similar Skele-Toes shoes also have articulated toes and an overall copycat look to VFFs.

fila Skeletoes.jpg

Fila USA’s Skele-Toes shoes

The lawsuit claims Fila has simply ripped off the Vibram FiveFingers design. Says Tony Post, Vibram USA’s president, “With our success, copyists and counterfeiters have come out of the woodwork. We will continue to take aggressive action against all who infringe our intellectual property.”


Vibram FiveFingers shoe

On Fila’s side, the company has responded to the lawsuit, writing that it “will vigorously defend itself against the complaint” and that the allegations are “without merit.” A company spokesperson told GearJunkie that prior to developing and releasing its Skele-Toes shoes in February 2011 Fila “determined that they did not infringe any existing patents.” Further, Fila told us that its Skele-Toes “joins a long history of shoes with articulated toes,” though no examples were cited.

Beyond Fila, there is no word yet on whether Vibram has its sights on Inov-8 Ltd. The U.K. company this year unveiled a FiveFingers-like shoe with its Evoskin, a silicone shell with individual toes. There is almost no construction in the Evoskin, so it’s different than the Fila Skele-Toes. The Evoskin appears to have been spit out from a mold, and its skintight silicone fit has had some dubbing the shoe a “foot condom.”

inov-8 evoskin.jpg

Inov-8 Evoskin

Outright counterfeiters are additional troublemakers for Vibram. Factories cranking out fake Vibram FiveFingers shoes — complete with exactly mimicked shoe models and ersatz Vibram logos — have been the target of past attacks from the Italian shoemaker.

As some context, Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes, now available in a huge variety of models, debuted in 2005 and have since sold by the tens of millions. The company touts the VFF design as having shoved off the recent minimalist footwear and barefoot-running trends, citing that it was the “pioneer” company that popularized minimalist shoes, and that “the entire footwear industry has responded by entering the minimalist category.”

Vibram FiveFingers Wool Boot.jpg

Vibram FiveFingers “cold-weather lifestyle boot”

Minimalist shoes are indeed now everywhere you turn, including from most all major manufacturers as well as niche brands. Shoes with toes are a huge trend, too, and for the past couple years naysayers have predicted that the bubble will burst. But people keep buying VFFs and Evoskins and Skele-Toes by the boatload. Will additional companies jump on the “foot glove” wagon? With its lawsuit this week, Vibram hopes to stop the flow from at least one of its competitors for the five-toed market share.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of

vff ad.jpg

Vibram sends a clear message in this recent full-page magazine ad

Posted by Charles Miske - 07/19/2011 09:36 AM

another case of a junk patent gone awry

Posted by GearJunkie Facebook - 07/19/2011 12:47 PM

From “Knut Korczak” via Gear Junkie on Facebook — “On the other hand, or foot, should a company be allowed to copyright how the human foot is constructed? Only one supplier of gloves?”

Posted by gnarlydog - 07/19/2011 09:59 PM

“Only one supplier of gloves?”
Absolutely! if that supplier was the first to invent the glove.
Vibram did not copyright the foot, they copyrighted (patented) the shoe. There is a huge difference.

Posted by TruthHurts - 07/20/2011 01:18 PM

Get it up! There’s been 100 companies that came out before Vibram that constructed a shoe surrounding the toes.

Posted by gnarlydog - 07/20/2011 08:21 PM

ah, in that case the folk at the Patent Office are all on drugs, asleep or morons.
If truly there were 100 companies having a product like VFF out before, wouldn’t you think that the Patent Office would notice?

Posted by Damien Tougas - 07/21/2011 05:32 AM

Where do you draw the line between FiveFingers and toe socks? Toe socks have been around for ages, some of the FiveFingers line are little more than socks with a bit of rubber on the bottom.

Posted by garyr - 07/24/2011 06:43 PM

Ironically,…although at this point does not really matter,….Vibram did not invent or develop the 5 Fingers product. This design was developed and produced for a number of years by Lizard, prior to Vibram showing it. Lizard is located just north of Vibram in Italy – I highly suspect all parties know each other well in that intimate community of the footwear industry in the greater Montebelluna area.

Posted by mark - 08/11/2011 07:41 PM

A message to Vibram “Get over yourself your time is up!”

Posted by quentin - 08/25/2011 10:48 AM

I think the issue with Fila runs a lot deeper than just the shoe having toes. There are some VERY striking similarities on the Fila design that doesn’t exist on shoes like the Inov-8 product.

It isn’t, IMO, about just having toes, it’s about copying other, design specific, things about the Vibram shoes.

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