PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Three designers denied they stole a "treasure trove" of trade secrets when they left Nike to work for Adidas, and counterclaimed that Nike "was stifling their creativity" with a "culture of distrust and intimidation."
Nike sued designers Denis Dekovic, Marc Dolce and Mark Miner in December, claiming they stole trade secrets to make "a strategic blueprint for a creative design studio to compete against Nike."
The $10 million complaint claims the designers bought fake social media followers for their project to create "the false perception of buzz and popularity surrounding their design careers."
The designers pitched their concept to Adidas and "sweetened" it by saying they could "bring a wealth of information and knowledge that will give Adidas the advantage," according to Nike's complaint in Multnomah County Court.
Nike accused the designers of "stealing a treasure trove of Nike product designs, research information, and business plans for use in Adidas' new design studio."
The designers filed their answer and counterclaims on March 17.
"The designers independently decided that the Nike corporate culture was stifling their creativity," the document states.
"And they, along with many of their design co-workers, were alarmed about the culture of distrust and intimidation that permeates the relationships between Nike executives and Nike Design creatives."
They claim that Nike's lawsuit was based on a "breathtaking breach of the designers' personal privacy."
"Although Nike claims to permit non-business use of the electronic communications systems, Nike monitored, read, copied and distributed its employees' personal communications with friends and family," the designers say.
After the designers left, Nike sent their laptops and other data-storage devices to a forensic analysis firm to find information to trace back to them, Nike said in its initial complaint.
The designers claim Nike's lawsuit took a number of quotes out of context, and they will move to strike information from personal correspondence.
They claim the non-compete agreements are not enforceable because the competition-restriction clause "far exceeds any legitimate restrictive covenant permissible in Oregon."
That clause makes it "virtually impossible for a Nike employee to seek future employment with a competitor," the designers say.
The clauses restricting extensions of time in the designers' non-compete agreements are also unenforceable under state law, they say.
"These alleged trade secrets will soon be disclosed or already have been disclosed by Nike," the designers said.
"In the fast-moving, trendy world of design, the information will be stale and outdated in a year; thus, a time extension is not warranted."
A hearing is scheduled for June 22.
Nike, a prime beneficiary of the U.S. running boom that began in the 1970s, has been a leader in running shoe design. It also has been criticized for exporting its jobs to Asian sweatshops. It reported $25.3 billion in revenue in FY 2013, with a profit margin of about 9 percent. It had 56,500 employees that year, most of them overseas. Its headquarters is in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland.