A jury in New York has ruled against the retail giant in a trademark dispute with designer Thom Browne.
The dispute revolves around the use of stripes on products. Adidas famously utilizes three stripes on their goods, a look that has been synonymous with their brand for decades. Meanwhile, Browne uses four stripes for products by his company, Thom Browne Inc., as shown below:
The four stripes design wasn’t the original choice for Browne, as he merely adopted it after a prior complaint by Adidas back in 2007. Browne had initially used three stripes design on his jackets, which predictably triggered a complaint by Adidas, and subsequently pushed Thom Browne to incorporate the four stripes design that he has used ever since.
In the succeeding years, Thom Browne Inc has grown to become a massively successful retailing company with hundreds of outlets. They are now renowned for producing high-end clothing that has attracted famous names, such as actor Oscar Isaac, musician Lizzo, and former England international Scott Parker, among others.
Recently, in 2021, Adidas reignited their dispute by filing a lawsuit concerning these marks. They asserted that the utilization of stripes could potentially mislead consumers. As stated in the suit, “Thom Browne sportswear and footwear feature three and four stripes in ways that Adidas claims are likely to deceive, confuse, and mislead actual and prospective purchasers of Adidas’s merchandise.” Furthermore, Adidas also demanded $867,225 in potential licensing fees and more than $7m in damages, a number they believe Browne accumulated by selling goods with the stripes, as mentioned above.
As a response, Browne’s legal representatives stressed the fact that Browne’s products are targeted at high-end consumers. Their relatively high price makes their target market much different from Adidas’, who generally sell goods at a more affordable price. Moreover, they also asserted that, unlike Adidas, sportswear does not dominate their catalog, thus further making it unlikely to cause consumer confusion.
Concerning the alleged similarity of stripes, Browne’s lawyers contended that stripes are a popular element of design that has been in common use in the clothing industry. “Adidas does not own stripes,” stressed lawyer Robert Maldonado in his closing argument. Eventually, after a nine-day trial, the New York jury sided with Thom Browne, ruling that Adidas had no grounds to stop the designer from using the four-stripe design.
Regarding the ruling, Browne has stated that he hopes his victory could inspire other designers when faced down against giant companies. At the same time, Adidas voiced their disappointment-- stating that they will continue “vigilantly enforcing their intellectual property.”
Adidas’ three stripes design has been their signature since they first utilized it in the 1950s. Given the position they have over the sportswear market share, it’s no surprise that they take high priority in protecting their designs. Before Browne, they sued several other brands for possible trademark infringement over the stripes, including Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Forever 21. However, the nature of the three stripes could make it difficult for Adidas to protect it, as Trademark norms dictate that common shapes or terms could not be owned in order to avoid monopoly.
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