The Memo: Adidas loses trademark battle

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Three stripes and you’re out: Adidas loses trademark battle

Amy Howe – 23 January 2023

The past few years have been landmark years for trademark IP, and there are no signs of things slowing down. To kick off 2023, Adidas and fashion house Thom Browne battled it out in a New York court after the sportswear retailer claimed that the fashion brand’s use of a four-stripe pattern infringed on Adidas’ three-stripe trademark.

This isn’t the first time the two brands have butted heads. Back in 2005, the fashion house debuted a three-striped design which caught the attention of the sportswear giant. After a brief back and forth, Thom Browne ceased use of the design, but it was shortly thereafter that the four-stripe design emerged. This time round, Adidas wasn’t so fortunate.

So, where do the lines blur? Trademark infringement allegations are usually upheld if there is significant evidence that the infringement is likely to deceive consumers. In this instance, the jury found this not to be the case, after Browne’s lawyers argued the opposing brands served different markets. Here in the UK, Adidas’ ‘three-stripe’ trademark is not recognised. Back in 2019, Adidas failed to expand the trademark in the EU, with the courts deeming the design not distinctive enough, hence, you’ll find a number of retailers advertising striped apparel.

In these sorts of cases, trademark lawyers will play an active role long before it enters the court. Whether it’s searching European and international registers of patents, trademarks and registered designs, securing them for their clients, or writing initial letters to third parties requesting them to desist from carrying out infringing activities.