updated 4/3/2007 8:34:43 PM ET 2007-04-04T00:34:43

Reebok has sued Nike, alleging its rival infringed on a patent covering “collapsible shoe” technology that allows sneakers to be folded so they can more easily be packed for travel or product shipping.

Reebok International Ltd. , which was acquired in January 2006 by Germany-based Adidas AG, alleged Tuesday that 11 Nike shoe models infringe on a U.S. patent Reebok obtained in January for flexible sole technology. The models are marketed under the product names “Free,” “Free Zen & Now,” “Free Trainer,” and “Free Trail,” Canton-based Reebok said.

Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike Inc. issued a statement saying the company was “evaluating the claims related to this very recently issued U.S. patent and any potential limited application to the successful Nike Free product.”

John Shanley, an industry analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group, said Nike likely would suffer no major hit to its sales regardless of the outcome of the patent case Reebok filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Nike doesn’t disclose revenue from specific product categories. But research by Shanley’s firm indicates the “Free” products targeted in Reebok’s lawsuit account for roughly $100 million annually — a small fraction of sales at the world’s largest sports apparel company, which reported $15 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year.

“It will have no material effect on them, even if they lost the lawsuit and had to stop selling the Free line,” Shanley said.

Shanley said patent disputes among sneaker makers are common “because there really is not a lot of product differentiation,” despite makers’ claims of technical differences.

When it bought Reebok for $3.8 billion, Adidas said it hoped the deal would double its U.S. business and narrow Nike’s market leadership.

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