Adidas' three stripes not distinctive enough for a trademark, court rules

Adidas logo

Adidas logo

Adidas's three-stripe logo has been ruled invalid as a trademark after an European Union court ruled it was not distinctive enough across the 28-member bloc.

The three parallel stripes seen adorning everything from running shoes to sports bags and the sleeves of t-shirts are "an ordinary figurative mark", the General Court of the European Union ruled.

Adidas said its trademark consisted of "three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction" but the court said that "the mark is not a pattern mark composed of a series of regularly repetitive elements, but an ordinary figurative mark".

The company failed to show such branding had a "distinctive character", the court said.

However, in 2016 Shoe Branding Europe applied to the EU intellectual property office (EU IPO) for the trademark to be annulled.

But the German sporting goods company, whose shares were down 1.3% in a broadly weaker market, said the court's ruling on Wednesday only affects a particular use of the symbol. "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".

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In 2017, the Board of Appeal declared the trademark invalid after it was challenged by Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe. It was not immediately clear which use Adidas was referring to.

The three-stripe logo was first registered by founder Adi Dassler on a football boot on 18 August 1949, but the court said it was not sufficient to identify the products as originating from Adidas.

The decision can still be appealed at the European Court of Justice, the EU's top court.

Adidas also filed filed a lawsuit in 2015 against design house Marc Jacobs for using the three stripes in its Fall/Winter 2014 collection, demanding the company cease all sales of the offending garments.

David Stone, global head of intellectual property at law firm Allen & Overy, said that the invalidation of the trademark "won't make much practical difference on the street" because Adidas has trademarks on the three-stripe logo in various specific positions.

In 2017 a US judge rejected Adidas' effort to block Skechers from selling athletic sneakers that it said copied its "Springblade" concept.

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