Adidas has lost a bid to ban rivals from using its three-stripe symbol in the European Union.
In 2014 the German sportswear giant tried to establish a wider trademark for “three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction”.
In less obscure terms, the stripes look like this:
But this week an EU court ruled the three stripes were an “ordinary figurative mark”.
To widen the trademark, Adidas needed to show that three parallel stripes, regardless of direction on the product, had acquired a “distinctive character” throughout the EU.
That meant when a consumer saw the stripes on a product, they had to inherently know it was from Adidas, with the stripes distinguishing it from the products of another company.
The trademark was challenged by Belgium’s Shoe Branding Europe after a decade-long dispute with Adidas.
The same EU court rendered Shoe Branding’s own two-stripe trademark invalid last year, saying the stripes were too similar to those of Adidas.
How is this going to affect Adidas?
Probably not that much.
Adidas already has protection for its slanted three-striped logo.
“The verdict does not affect our ability to use and protect the three stripes,” an Adidas spokeswoman said.
The head of intellectual property at law firm Allen & Overy, David Stone, told the Guardian the decision “won’t make much practical difference on the street”.
But David Haigh, chief executive of consultancy Brand Finance, said Wednesday’s ruling could erode the value of the Adidas brand, currently worth $US14.3 billion ($20.7 billion).
“The name is more important but the recognisable three stripes are also a major contributor to recognition,” he said.
Adidas can still appeal the decision
Adidas said in a statement the ruling did not impact other protected uses of the trademark in Europe.
“Whilst we are disappointed with the decision, we are further evaluating it and are welcoming the useful guidance that the court will give us for protecting our three-stripe mark applied to our products in whichever direction in the future,” it said.
The court said Adidas had provided evidence related to the mark’s use in five EU countries, but not throughout the bloc.