The Plight of the 3-Stripes

The Plight of the 3-Stripes

This week in fashion news, sportswear giants Adidas and Sketchers have settled their latest legal dispute over the notorious three stripe trademark. This is just the latest in over 300 infringement matters involving the 3-stripe brand in the United States alone.

This particular case between two of the largest US footwear brands involved Sketchers’ Goldie-Peaks shoe design being “sufficiently similar to [its] 3 stripes”, therefore likely to confuse consumers into thinking the latest Sketcher trainer was Adidas endorsed, and therefore infringing on the registered trademark rights.

Although Sketchers contested that the footwear industry is a ‘crowded field of stripe designs’ making the protection Adidas maintains narrow, the Californian footwear company formally requested that the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismiss the case filed in February, after five months of legal animosity.

Adidas Superstars (left) Sketchers Goldie-Peaks (right)

It is no secret that the Adidas legal team have built up a very impressive folio of legal disputes surrounding their 3-stripes branding. The ‘constant war’ between Adidas and any company that you can conceive that has endorsed a product or logo containing stripes, has created a reputation of “aggressive enforcement” and “bullying” within the trademark and intellectual property world.

We are not joking when we say any company; long-time fashion mogul Ralph Lauren was hit with a lawsuit in 2014 involving a Polo jacket with two stripes on the sleeve, which the German sportswear giant deemed a little too close to an Adidas windbreaker. Furthermore, Marc Jacobs settled a case in 2016 concerning sweaters with four stripes running down the arms. It doesn’t stop at other fashion retailers. Adidas settled its third trademark lawsuit against the colossal retail giant Walmart after- you guessed it- the sale of striped shoes. They then sued Target and Kmart the same year, with the exact same complaint. Even the electric car industry isn’t safe from the bloodhound-like sportswear legal team; Adidas disputed the trademark register of Tesla’s original Model 3 car logo, a trio of horizontal bars, arguing it would cause confusion because the car manufacturer planned to embellish the logo on clothing.


Small sample of Adidas 3-Strip design rights the company hold

The question that’s on everyone’s lips- can Adidas really own the rights to stripes? Despite a lot of legal rulings, the answer is no. However, it does hold the design rights to using the 3-stripe design in certain ways. Such as stripes on the sleeves of track jackets or down the sides of tank tops. Last month, an EU court ruled that the 3-stripe logo was “devoid of any distinctive character” disallowing any broadened protections and arguing that the public don’t associate all groupings of two to four stripes with Adidas. This marks one of very few losses for the retailer, who Mike Masnick, founder of TechDirt, highlighted as a perfect example of a brand misusing its trademark for total ownership rather than displacing consumer confusion. This highlights the repercussions of a trademark being considered as intellectual property; although Adidas hold a very considerable number of rights to 3-stripe logos, they do not own stripes, although they certainly are trying to.

So next time you pull out your trainers and kid yourself you’re going to take up running, take a moment to consider the world of intellectual property and the tireless plight of the Adidas legal team to protect those three straight lines on the side of your shoe. (Even if they’re Nike, they’ve sued them too.)

The plight of the 3-stripes highlights the importance of protecting brand identities and a company’s IP assets. Are you an investor looking to acquire or lend to an IP-rich company?  If so, it would be critical to understand the full extent of the IP assets underpinning a company’s competitive advantage and any associated risks within the IP portfolio. Our Commercial IP Due Diligence service is designed to do just that, as well as recommending actions that a company could take to mitigate any identified IP-related risks. Are you a corporate that would like to improve existing IP management practices? Our IP Audit could be the starting point. Please get in touch with our friendly team to discuss.

Author: Samantha Main, Marketing Assistant


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