EU Court rules adidas’ 3 stripes trademark as invalid

adidas logo 3 stripes

LUXEMBOURG: The General Court of the European Union ruled on Wednesday that German sportswear giant adidas’ iconic three-stripe branding was invalid as a trademark as it was an "ordinary figurative mark", lacking a distinctive character.

It thus upheld a decision of the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in 2016 to annul a previous decision to accept the trademark.

adidas needed to show the mark had acquired a “distinctive character” throughout the European Union based on its use, to the point that consumers inherently knew an adidas product and could distinguish it from another company's products. The company had only produced relevant evidence relating to five of the 28 member states, said the regulator.

“The mark is not a pattern mark composed of a series of regularly repetitive elements, but an ordinary figurative mark,” said the court’s statement.

Adidas said it was disappointed with the ruling, noting that the decision would only affect a particular use of the famous symbol.

“This ruling is limited to this particular execution of the 3-stripe mark and does not impact on the broad scope of protection that adidas has on its well-known 3-stripe mark in various forms in Europe,” the company said. It can still appeal to the European Court of Justice.

adidas registered the trademark which consisted of “three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction” in 2014. It applied for clothing, footwear and headgear.

The trademark was challenged by Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe, with which adidas has been in a decade-long dispute.

Last year, Shoe Branding's two-stripe trademark was declared invalid by an EU court which said the stripes were too similar to the adidas trademark.

Shoe Branding bought Patrick, which was founded in 1892 and says it is the oldest sports brand in Europe, in 2008. Patrick features two stripes on its shoes and clothing, although they slope in the opposite direction to those on adidas shoes.

The sporting goods industry has seen a rise in trademark and patent disputes as the biggest players try to differentiate their products and justify premium pricing, Reuters reports.

High-profile cases have included adidas clashing with Skechers USA and Nike taking on Puma.

Wednesday’s ruling could erode the value of the adidas brand, currently worth $14.3 billion, according to David Haigh, chief executive of consultancy Brand Finance.

“The name is more important but the recognizable three stripes are also a major contributor to recognition,” he told the newswire.