>> After six years in and out of courts, Nike has settled a lawsuit that claimed the company misled the public about working conditions in its overseas factories, resolving a battle over free speech protection that had gone to the U.S. Supreme Court and could have had repercussions on corporate public relations and company statements everywhere. Additionally, Nike has agreed to pay $1.5 million over the next three years to the Fair Labor Association, a worker rights group. The money will be used for worker education programs, to monitor manufacturing countries and to develop a global standard for corporate responsibility. The original lawsuit stemmed from Mark Kasky, a San Francisco labor activist, who sued Nike for allegedly falsely portraying itself as a "model of corporate responsibility" in what he said was an effort to boost sales after defending its business practices in Third World countries making its footwear. More than 60 entities, including CBS, the ACLU, The New York Times and even the U.S. government, had filed amicus ("friend of the court") briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Nike in the case. In January, the highest court agreed to hear the case, and those groups were hoping it would reaffirm the First Amendment right to free and open debate and overturn a California state court ruling from May 2002 that restricts the ability of businesses and other organizations to speak out on matters of public importance. Even the Bush administration backed Nike in the case, arguing that a defeat for the company would turn private corporate critics such as Kasky into self-proclaimed "fraud-busters" or censors. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the commercial free speech case involving Nike in June, shipping the case back to the California court for a possible trial. "The two parties mutually agreed that investments designed to strengthen workplace monitoring and factory worker programs are more desirable than prolonged litigation," Nike said in a statement on Sept. 12. Nike also agreed to continue funding its after-hours worker education programs in footwear facilities and micro-loan programs -- $500,000 over the next two years.
>> Life Fitness and Precor-parent Amer Group have finalized the pending $25 million settlement in the elliptical patent-infringement case that had been announced in May. Since May the court had granted three 30-day stays to finalize an agreement, but negotiations had stalled due to conflicting schedules, according to court documents. Finally, at an Aug. 21 hearing, Judge Thomas Zilly, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, in Seattle, ordered a settlement by Sept. 30. On Sept. 9, Amer Group announced that the settlement had been signed and Life Fitness would pay $25 million for allegedly infringing on Precor's rear-drive elliptical -- $23 million to go to Amer Group and $2 million to go to elliptical inventor and patent-holder Larry Miller. Life Fitness, a division of Brunswick, will pay the settlement amount in two annual installments in 2003 and 2004, in return for a sublicense of the patent rights to continue to use the technology for its elliptical fitness equipment. The gain will be included in Amer's interim results for the period January-September 2003. In addition, Precor will receive royalties on all future sales of products by Life Fitness which are covered by the patent. Brunswick recorded the charge in an earlier quarter so there is no further financial impact on the company. Life Fitness President Kevin Grodzki told SNEWS: "As you know, this case had gone on for several years, and we believed it was time to put this matter behind us and move forward with our business plans. That decision was in the best interest of both Life Fitness and Brunswick. We will continue to produce rear-drive cross-trainers, and this settlement will not affect our ability to provide our customers with the quality products they have come to expect from Life Fitness." Precor had alleged in a suit filed in January 2000 that Life Fitness was infringing on the inventor's patent No. 5,383,829 in a rear-drive "cross-trainer" -- Life Fitness' name for an elliptical motion trainer.
>> Iron Grip Barbell Company has recently entered into a licensing relationship with CAP Barbell. Iron Grip has granted CAP Barbell the right to sell certain weight plates with three handgrips under U.S. Patent 6,436,015.
>> "Meeting bigger needs" -- that was the headline on a newspaper story SNEWS stumbled upon recently. It discussed how Americans are getting, yes, bigger and how clothes, shoes, cars, beds and other products are accommodating the changes. Guess that might apply to bike seats, weight benches and other equipment sizing in the fitness industry, too. Comfort seats on bikes aren't just about comfort, but bigger bottoms that need them. In general, more consumers are buying queen beds, companies are turning to "vanity sizes" in clothing (sliding the size numbers so what used to be a women's 10 is now a women's 8…to make you feel better about being bigger), denser foam is being installed in car seats to hold up to more weight, and MRI machinery is getting bigger. A sizing project from so-called "Project Caeser" found that sizing charts for most women's clothing hadn't changed since the 1940s. Note this scary figure: In 1960, 44.8 percent of adults were overweight while 64.5 percent were overweight in 2000, says the CDC. Those who were "obese" -- that notch higher on the scale than simply overweight -- went from 13.3 to a whopping 31 percent in 2000. SNEWS View: OK, so we're generally taller and bigger boned with bigger feet, but simply accommodating the growing problem of obesity by making the world bigger is a Band-Aid.
>> Heard that backpacks filled with heavy books (and no lockers at many schools these days) are giving kids back pain and back problems? Oops, look for another excuse -- like out-of-shape and obese kids. A study from the University of Michigan Health System found that the real culprit was -- ta-da -- overweight kids who didn't exercise and didn't have enough back, ab and leg strength to support the load. SNEWS View: More proof that the industry needs to look at getting kids fit.
>> You know how they say dogs and their owner start to look alike? Well, let's hope not. A new report issued last week by the National Research Council -- "Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs" -- draws attention to our obesity epidemic that is affecting not just people, but millions of pets nationwide. In fact, an estimated 30 million dogs and cats in the United States are overweight. That's where a new program comes in, touted as shedding pounds with your hound (oh, some PR person had too much fun with that, don't you think?). Veterinarians and obesity experts launched the first-ever weight loss program for portly pets and their overweight owners to see if they could win the battle of the bulge together. Called PPET (People and Pets Exercising Together), the hope was that with proper nutrition and regular exercise, people can shed pounds with their hounds. If you look like your pet (or vice versa) or you know someone who does, log onto www.petfit.com. Ah, the small print: "It's important to speak with your veterinarian about how you can shed pounds with your hound."
>> A couple of hires, one each at Sears and Dick's Sporting Goods: Sears, Roebuck and Co. (NYSE: S) has named Carrie Shigetomi to the post of vice president, brand development, effective Sept. 19. She will report to Mindy Meads, Sears' executive vice president and general manager, apparel. Dick's Sporting Goods, Inc. (NYSE: DKS) today announced that Jerel Hollens is joining the company as senior vice president of supply chain. Hollens, who joined the company effective last week, is responsible for all aspects of the supply chain, from the planning process to the sales floor, leading the areas of store allocation and replenishment, merchandise planning and analysis, distribution, and transportation.
>> More exposure and sponsorship ideas: Royal Caribbean cruise lines recently had a triathlon weekend cruise with several hundred of its passengers on a trip taking their bikes and doing a tri when they got to the Bahamas. What you wanna bet that those folks and their friends and families would want to be sure to train before and afterward too? www.royalcaribbean.com.