On Tuesday, the ongoing legal battle between
The face-off dates back to June 2021, when adidas filed a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against Thom Browne, arguing that “despite Thom Browne’s knowledge of [its] rights in the famous three-stripe mark,” the New York design house “has expanded its product offerings far beyond [its] formal wear and business attire specialty.” The filing claimed that Browne is now “selling athletic-style apparel and footwear featuring two, three or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to adidas’ three-stripe mark.”
adidas alleges that Browne is reaping the benefits of the Three Stripes’ “widespread fame and tremendous public recognition” and “extremely valuable goodwill” that the brand has built through “millions of dollars” of promotional marketing.
While the widely-known Three Stripes serve as an “indicator of the origin of adidas’ goods” and have existed since “long before Thom Browne began distributing, marketing, promoting, offering for sale or selling” sportswear fronting similar motifs, adidas claimed that the designer’s work “imitates [its] three-stripe mark in a manner that is likely to cause consumer confusion and deceive the public regarding its source, sponsorship, association, or affiliation,” which, in turn, is “irreparably harming adidas’ brand and its extremely valuable [mark].”
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adidas is seeking $867,225 USD in damages for would-be licensing fees and an additional $7 million USD in profits that it alleges the New York brand made from products with stripes, according to adidas’ attorney R. Charles Henn Jr. of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP via WWD.
In his opening statement on Tuesday, Henn said that adidas believes Browne purposely incorporated striped branding into its designs with the intention of drawing more attention to its sportswear category. He stated that the Three Stripes have been used in the U.S. since 1952 and disclosed that the company spends approximately $300 million USD per year on advertising and makes $3.1 billion USD in sales of products donning the signature icon.
Henn pointed to Browne’s partnership with FC Barcelona and the team’s top player, Lionel Messi, who was an adidas ambassador for 15 years, along with Browne’s work for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, a team with which he says adidas has had a “long relationship.” It’s important to note that Browne’s FC Barcelona partnership entailed off-the-field designs, and for the Cavaliers, he created custom-tailored ensembles, which players wore as they entered the 2018 NBA Playoffs through the arena’s tunnel.
The German sportswear label did acknowledge that it exists in a different market to Browne, but it still claims that the luxury label’s striped ensembles have led to consumer confusion. Browne initially used three stripes on varsity-inspired clothing items, and Henn stated that when adidas noticed its usage in 2007, the brand approached Browne’s then-CEO to change the logo to four stripes. Henn argued, citing a recent survey, that 26.9% of 2,400 consumers still mistake Browne’s striped items for adidas’ designs, regardless of the change.
In his rebuttal, Browne’s lawyer, Robert T. Maldonado of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks P.C., pointed to that same agreement, in which Browne agreed to alter its branding to four stripes to avoid a lengthy lawsuit from adidas. Browne’s team believes that since adidas did not approach Browne from 2008, when the four stripes debuted on the runway, until its settlement negotiation in 2018, the excessively long wait is simply unfair. “Thom Browne doesn’t agree that a decade-long delay is acceptable,” Maldonado said.
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Further, Maldonado stated that Browne does not believe consumers have been misled by his usage of stripes, nor does he believe that adidas was harmed by his inclusion of them. He clarified that Browne has been making casual apparel for more than a decade and that the brand first released jersey sweatpants in 2009, sourcing inspiration from varsity style, not the German label. Additionally, he pointed to the fact that the two brands exist in two separate categories. “Thom Browne does not compete with Adidas,” he said. “Thom Browne is a luxury designer and adidas is a sports brand.”
He noted that if Browne were to halt its usage of the four stripes, the brand would see a significant impact on its business, which amounted to roughly $73 million USD in the third quarter of this year.
“Three stripes are not the same as four horizontal bars,” Maldonado said. “[adidas] fell asleep at the wheel and woke up too late.”
The lawsuit is the latest in a pile of legal battles that adidas has pursued over its Three Stripes, which has previously seen the sportswear label challenge brands including J. Crew, Juicy Couture, Tesla and Forever 21 for using designs that mildly resemble its trademark.
The trial is expected to conclude in two weeks. Browne and the brand’s CEO Rodrigo Bazan are expected to testify.