The German athletic giant had tried to widen its trademark protection for “three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction” for use in clothing, footwear and headgear, but has been met with opposition. After the company registered the trademark in 2014, it was challenged by Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe, and in 2016, the European Union Intellectual Property Office ruled against Adidas, finding the mark lacked distinctiveness throughout the EU.
The fight between the two shoemakers stemmed from an earlier legal battle, though, in which Adidas successfully opposed Shoe Branding’s registration of a two-stripe trademark for its sneaker and sportswear brand Patrick. In that case, the court found that Shoe Branding’s stripes were confusingly similar to Adidas’ two-stripe trademark, and blocked the registration.
Adidas’ most recent setback doesn’t mean it is no longer entitled to protect its intellectual property. In fact, the company has numerous other three-stripe trademarks registered in the EU. But Wednesday’s ruling may limit its scope. The essential point: The court disagreed the mark is a pattern mark, which would allow it to be reproduced in different dimensions and proportions. Instead, the court said, the stripes are a standard figurative mark that could not be applied to stripes of any size, direction or color scheme.
“Once a trademark is registered, the proprietor is not entitled to a broader protection than that afforded by that graphic representation,” the official decision read.
Adidas still has one more chance to appeal the case to the European Court of Justice. A spokesperson for the company said it “is disappointed with the recent ruling by the General Court” but said “we are further evaluating it and are welcoming the useful guidance that the Court will give us for protecting our three-stripe mark applied to our products in whichever direction in the future.”
Adidas has long been protective of its three-stripe trademark. It has sued brands including Ecco, Athletic Propulsion Labs, Collective Brands Inc. (then the owner of Payless ShoeSource) and Puma for allegedly infringing on the design. In May 2018, it settled a nearly three-year dispute with Skechers USA, alleging that California-based brand unlawfully infringed on several of its trademarks.
“The commercial and conceptual strengths of the three-stripe mark are undeniable,” said U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez of the case. “The mark is ubiquitous across Adidas’ various products, and it has very strong global recognition, evidenced by billions of dollars of sales of products bearing the mark.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Adidas.
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