May 4

Adidas and the "3 stripes" brand


For over 70 years, the 3 bands ofAdidas are a very important marketing tool for the famous sports equipment manufacturer. The company has registered several trademarks incorporating the 3 stripes around the world. Adidas actively monitors and defends its brands (opposition, infringement action, unfair competition action...).

Today, we come back to a case that opposed Adidas to the American designer Thom Browne. The company considered that the presence of 4 parallel stripes on the clothes marketed by the designer constituted acts of infringement of its intellectual property rights.

After several years of tension between the German brand and the designer, Adidas finally went to federal court in New York to ask for the conviction of Thom Browne. On January 12, 2023, the jury rendered its decision.

Defending the 3 Stripes: Adidas' legal battle against Thom Browne

Infringement action: a last resort

Infringement lawsuits are generally quite rare. Most cases of this type are settled out of court, particularly in the United States where the costs of proceedings and those resulting from a conviction are extremely high, much higher than in France.

This is especially true when the opponents do not have the same means. When Adidas acts against a small company, with limited means and a small stock, the opponent has a strong incentive to negotiate a settlement. It is often the case that the agreement allows for the liquidation of the remaining stock and includes a commitment not to sell similar products in the future.

In this case, Adidas and Thom Browne had sought a compromise during a mediation process. When no agreement was reached, Adidas took the case to court. Thom Browne did not give in, and the outcome proved him right.

Thom Browne sued for infringement of the 3 parallel bands

The brand Thom BrowneZegna, named after its designer, is part of the Italian luxury group Zegna. A number of the brand's garments feature several parallel stripes. In 2007, Adidas had already objected to the use of a 3-stripe pattern on the brand's clothing. Thom Browne replaced it with a four stripe pattern.

The conflict between the 2 brands did not end there, however. In the summer of 2021, Adidas filed a complaint against Thom Browne for trademark infringement and dilution, accusing him of selling " athletic style clothing and footwear with two, three or four parallel stripes "in a way that is confusingly similar to Adidas' three-stripe brand. Apparently, the trigger was Thom Browne's application of the stripes to "streetwear" products, which is Adidas' core business. For the German sportswear retailer, there was a risk of confusion for the average consumer.

The trial between the sports equipment manufacturer and the fashion house began on January 3, 2023. According to the trade press, Adidas wanted to obtain at least 7.8 million dollars in damages. The German company had also requested a court order prohibiting Thom Browne from using parallel stripes on its products.

"Adidas does not own stripes": the arguments invoked by Thom Browne

Thom Browne's lawyer insisted that Adidas did not have a monopoly on parallel stripes, which are common designs for clothing. He also argued that there was no likelihood of confusion between the two companies' products as they do not address the same customers, as Thom Browne's products are luxury products, designed by a renowned designer and sold at very high prices. Finally, the lawyer indicated that Adidas was aware of its line of striped products and tolerated it for many years without reacting.

The arguments put forward seem to have convinced the jurors, since the court ruled in favor of Thom Browne. The jury, composed of 8 people, returned its verdict on January 12: for the jurors, the parallel stripe patterns of the Thom Browne mark were not likely to create confusion with the Adidas products. The designer can therefore continue to use the four stripes for his creations.

Adidas' defense of the 3 stripes

Adidas is known for its offensive strategy towards brands using stripes on clothing and shoes. 

Adidas: very active in defending its rights

Adidas has earned a reputation for taking every opportunity to assert its intellectual property rights. According to the American daily The OregonianAdidas has filed at least 325 infringement cases in the United States. The company has also reportedly reached at least 200 settlements since 2008.

For example, Adidas has sued the Skechers footwear brand several times over the past 20 years, usually over the use of the 3-stripe logo. In 2018, Adidas had actually won the case. The judges held that Adidas' Stan Smith shoe had "huge commercial success and market recognition"and that Skechers had deliberately misled customers by directing searches"adidas Stan Smith"to his site.

March 2017, Adidas had also attacked the Forever 21 clothing chain The case was finally settled out of court, without the terms of the settlement being known. This case was finally settled out of court, without the terms of the agreement being known.

The random protection of the Adidas 3 stripes

But in other recent cases, Adidas has not been successful. The Thom Browne case is an example.

The 3-stripes brand sometimes struggles to get textile actors who put parallel stripes on their products condemned for counterfeiting. In France, Adidas unsuccessfully sued the fashion brands Sandro and Isabelle Marant, which had marketed pants, jackets and shorts with two stripes (Paris Court of Appeals, Pole 5, Chamber 1, November 2, 2022, No. 20/18680, Adidas / Sandro case).

The reputation of Adidas is therefore not sufficient to justify a monopoly on the affixing of stripes on clothing, especially in the presence of non-sportswear.

In short, it is difficult to defend a very simple sign, such as 3 parallel stripes. This protection remains fragile, even for a trademark with a reputation like Adidas. Indeed, it is difficult to demonstrate an infringement during a dispute.

It is therefore preferable to register complex signs, the recovery of which may justify an action.

Our entire team is at your disposal if you have questions about trademark law or counterfeitingWe can also assist you in filing a trademark application or setting up a trademark watch.


3 stripes, Adidas, conflict, Counterfeit

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