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Converse files lawsuit against tiny online retailer

Companies will go to great lengths to protect their patents and trademarks. Converse Inc., maker of the iconic Chuck Taylor sneakers, may have set some kind of record.

The North Andover company filed a lawsuit Monday in US District Court in Boston alleging trademark infringement and unfair business practices against Autonomie Project, a tiny online retailer from Jamaica Plain that sold “fair trade fashion and footwear.”

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The real kicker: Autonomie does not appear to have much to sell now and may have gone out of business some time ago.

In the lawsuit, Converse alleged sneakers sold by Autonomie bear a remarkable resemblance to Chuck Taylor All-Stars. It said the Ethletic brand sneakers sold by Autonomie shared a number of design characteristics with Chuck Taylor sneakers, such as the pattern on the soles, rubber covering the toes, and details in the rubber trim around the bottom of the shoes.

“Converse owns common law and federal trademark rights in the appearance of the outsole, midsole, and upper designs commonly used in connection with Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Star shoes,” the lawsuits said.

Neither Converse executives nor lawyers representing the company responded Tuesday to calls for comment about the case.

Converse, which is owned by Nike Inc., says that since 1917 it has sold more than 1 billion pairs of sneakers featuring some of the design features in dispute. The company said it sold 153 million pairs in the past decade, generating $2.4 billion in revenue.

Autonomie, whose website highlights “organic sweatshop-free and vegan” products, owned the rights to distribute Ethletic sneakers in the United States and Canada. It had been selling the high- and low-top shoes since 2007, but never actually made the sneakers. The shoes were developed by Fair Trade Dealing Ltd. in Great Britain.

The telephone number listed on the Autonomie website was not in service Tuesday, and no one responded to e-mails listed online.

Most of the products featured for sale on the website were shown to be either “out of stock” or “unavailable.”

Scott Fitzsimmons, the owner of Sudo Shoes in Cambridge, has resold Ethletic shoes supplied by Autonomie in the past. He said he believed Autonomie went out of business about six months ago.

Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gail.waterhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gailwaterhouse.
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