Three stripes, you're out! Designer Thom Browne defeats Adidas over stripe trademark

The Adidas logo on a pair of shorts
The Adidas logo on a pair of shorts   -   Copyright  Matthias Schrader/AP
By Jonny Walfisz

Designer Thom Browne has emerged victorious in a legal battle with sportswear brand Adidas in New York this week.

Adidas are famous for their staunch defence of their three-striped trademark brand. However, in recent years their legal attempts to hold exclusivity over striped designs in fashion have faltered. 

In 2021, Adidas sued Browne for the “Four-Bar Signature” detailing on his products, a set of four parallel stripes that feature on the arms of T-shirts, sweatpants and hoodies. The German clothes brand claimed his signature look was too similar to their three-striped logo.

The two-week trial concluded yesterday when the eight-person jury delivered its verdict in less than two hours.

Browne’s courtroom supporters erupted in joy before US District Judge Jed Rakoff scolded them for violating courtroom decorum. Supporters later spilled into the hallway, some celebrating with hugs and tears.

“It was important to fight and tell my story,” Browne told The Associated Press.

“And I think it’s more important and bigger than me, because I think I was fighting for every designer that creates something and has a bigger company come after them later,” he said.

Adidas spokesperson Rich Efrus noted the brand’s displeasure with the verdict and their intention to fight it.

“We are disappointed with the verdict and will continue to vigilantly enforce our intellectual property, including filing any appropriate appeals,” he said.

Three stripes, you're out!

This isn’t the first time Adidas has taken issue with Browne. 

In 2007, the brand complained that his three-stripe design was too similar to their trademark. Browne didn’t dispute the complaint and altered his look to the current four-bar version.

LARRY NEUMEISTER/AP
Fashion designer Thom Browne leaves Manhattan federal court, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in New YorkLARRY NEUMEISTER/AP

But a 2018 deal with luxury brand Zegna put Browne back on Adidas’ radar. The boutique designer was suddenly featured across 300 stores worldwide and expanding into activewear, causing Adidas to grow concerned their brand would be diluted.

After the 2021 complaint, Browne argued they don’t exist in the same market as a pair of his compression tights cost over €650 compared to Adidas leggings that retail at around €90.

This also isn’t the first high-profile trademark battle that Adidas has lost in recent years.

In 2019, the brand had their three-stripe logo invalidated by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) after it was ruled they hadn’t proved it was sufficiently distinctive.

Adidas had argued that their three stripes were a clear signifier of their brand across products in the EU when Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe disputed the trademark.

The company had tried to register a trademark for the stripes in 2014, but Shoe Branding Europe took issue as they had a two-striped design in the other direction on some of their shoes.

The EUIPO decided that Adidas hadn’t adequately defended the distinctiveness of their trademark, as part of their evidence contained an image of black trousers with two parallel white stripes on it, instead of the three parallel black stripes they were arguing for.