These Stripes Won’t Do

Adidas is at it again. This time, they’re suing Thom Browne

They are four rows instead of three (at least seen in the above photo), yet Adidas thinks Thom Browne’s parallel lines are exactly like the former’s. The German brand is suing Thom Browne for “selling athletic-style apparel (also seen above) and footwear featuring two, three, or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s three-stripe mark,” according to the trademark infringement claim filed in New York and reported in the media. It is understandable that three lines, even of different widths, could be “confusingly similar”, but two or four of them will cause confusion, even when everyone not living under a rock knows Adidas never use less than three? That’s confusing! Or is this because lawyers under Adidas’s payroll need to justify their existence? Don’t you dare!

Trademarks, of course, need to be protected, but is it possible that Adidas does not seem confident of their unmistakable, although unremarkable, graphical branding even as they say, “for over half a century, [they] extensively and continuously [have] used and promoted the three-stripe mark in connection with apparel and footwear”? Despite holding fast to the three stripes, Adidas does not consider it adequate or long enough since “confusing” is apparently the result when similar marks appear. And the only way to make things less “confusing” is to take a litigious approach. According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, Adidas had, by then, filed nearly 50 lawsuits to secure its trademarked stripes.

The suit also stated that, previously, there was mediation between Adidas and Thom Browne, beginning in November 2020. Nothing was resolved, it seems. But in a statement responding to Adidas’s charges—quoted by WWD—a spokesperson claimed that they did their part and “acted honorably for all this time”. He added that “Adidas consented for 12 years and now they’re changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It’s an attempt to use the law illegally.”

We do not know that the illegal use of the law exists. But as consumers, we are definitely not confused by Thom Browne’s use of the stripes, which, graphic designers will agree, are themselves generic lines and are “devoid of any distinctive character”, as the EU Intellectual Property Office, which had rejected Adidas’s trademark application, said in 2016 (a ruling upheld by an EU court in 2019). Many of us do no think that the Adidas stripes look anything like Thom Browne’s. But never mind what the rest of us actually think. It only matters what Adidas think we may think, stupid us! Will Adidas sue Kit Kat next?

File photo: Zhao Xiangji/SOTD

One thought on “These Stripes Won’t Do

  1. Pingback: Valentino Makes A Statement | Style On The Dot

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