Adidas Sues Thom Browne Over Use of Stripes

The German sportswear giant has accused the American designer of selling products that feature a motif "confusingly similar" to its Three-Stripe branding.

Thom Browne

Image via Getty/Ilya S. Savenok

Thom Browne

UPDATED 1/6/23, 3:18 p.m. ET: Adidas and Thom Browne are facing off in court.

The sportswear giant and American luxury brand kicked off their jury trial in Manhattan on Tuesday, less than two years after Adidas sued Thom Browne for trademark infringement. Adidas alleges the brand’s four-stripe logo is an imitation of its signature three-stripe branding that was introduced in 1949.

According to CNN, Thom Browne debuted a three-stripe design in 2005, but pulled it in 2007 at the request of Adidas. Several years later, Thom Browne rolled out its “Four-Bar Signature” and “Grosgrain Signature” stripe designs, which have been used across the brand’s footwear, accessories, and ready-to-wear collections. Adidas argues the stripe motifs are way too similar to its three-stripe designs, so much so that it could cause confusion among consumers. 

Attorneys for Thom Browne point out that Adidas’ complaint came more than a decade after the “Four-Bar Signature” and “Grosgrain Signature” were introduced and was, therefore, unacceptable; however, Adidas says it only became aware of the alleged infringement in 2018, when Thom Browne filed a trademark application for the “Grosgrain Signature.”

Adidas is now seeking $8 million in damages and profits from the New York label. 

See the original story below.

Adidas is taking aim at Thom Browne.

According to The Fashion Law, the German sportswear giant is suing the American label over its signature stripe motif seen on everything from suiting and shoes to bags and opticals. Adidas claims Thom Browne is well aware of its Three-Stripe trademark, but has expanded its offerings into “sportswear and athletic-style footwear that bear confusingly similar imitations of Adidas’ Three-Stripe Mark,” which the company has used since the mid-20th century.

The plaintiffs argue that the Three-Stripes have become synonymous with Adidas, thanks in large part to millions of dollars worth of marketing. They also point to Thom Browne’s ongoing partnership with FC Barcelona, claiming the deal has led to confusion over association and athlete sponsorships. 

“Thom Browne has promoted its goods using images associated with soccer and even several soccer players that are sponsored by Adidas, including most notably Lionel Messi,” the suit reads. “An October 4, 2018 article in GQ entitled ‘How Thom Browne Become Lionel Messi’s Tailor of Choice’ noted the overlap with the subtitle: ‘Fresh off a Zenga acquisition, the other Three Stripes debuts its latest inroads into athletic-wear, with F.C. Barcelona.”

Adidas claims that Thom Browne’s continued use of the stripe motif will not only deceive the public, but also harm “Adidas’ brand and its extremely valuable [mark].”

According to TFL, the dispute dates back to 2018, when Adidas allegedly learned that Thom Browne had filed trademark application for a striped mark in the European Union. Adidas claimed its team investigated the matter and kicked off the mediation process with the label back in November 2020; however, the proceedings failed to resolve the dispute.

Adidas is asking the court to stop Thom Browne from “distributing, marketing, or selling apparel and footwear using or bearing confusingly similar imitations of the adidas Three-Stripe Mark.” The brand is also seeking monetary damages as well as legal fees.

A spokesperson for Thom Browne told WWD that the label had been working with Adidas to resolve the issue “amicably,” but the sportswear brand abruptly ended those discussions and filed the litigation. 

“On review it seems to us that Adidas is very much playing the role of Goliath, trying to muscle a case that has, in our view, little merit,” the spokesperson said. “What is important to understand is that Adidas gave its consent to Thom Browne over 10 years ago and in fact suggested that Thom add an additional stripe to reach four on the sleeves or the pants and that this would be OK by Adidas. From that point for over a decade Adidas never said a word to Thom Browne. It is more than reasonable to believe that Adidas, having first expressed concern to Thom Browne over three stripes, made sure to watch what Thom has been doing ever since. Adidas, like all good brands, monitors the market. It is only now, with Thom finally achieving some real success that Adidas has behaved differently. We cannot guess why Adidas is acting in this manner at this point in time.”

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