There are very few brands that are truly seen as instantly recognizable worldwide – but Adidas’s three stripes branding undoubtedly falls within this category alongside fellow heavyweights such as Apple, Nike and McDonalds.
Unfortunately for Adidas, the three stripes branding is under increasing scrutiny having recently lost a third appeal in the General Court of the European Union against the repeal of a trademark (Case ref T-307/17). Adidas holds many trademarks in multiple jurisdictions all over the world, but in this instance, it was specifically granted to the German sportswear brand by the European Union Intellectual Property Office in 2014. The office holds the right to grant trademarks that are then protected within all EU member states.
Adidas’s primary aim was to protect the three stripes branding. It approached the trademarking in a broad and arguably ambiguous manner. This is where the problems stem from. The General Court reaffirmed the previous dismissal of Adidas’s appeal. Firstly, it was held that the trade mark was ‘devoid of any distinctive characteristics’ that would distinguish its products from others despite Adidas providing a whopping 12,00 pages of evidence that they deemed to be to the contrary. Whilst you may be reading this thinking that the three stripes are synonymous with Adidas (as I do), the Court respectfully disagreed in this instance.
Another interesting ruling from the Court was based on the simplicity of the three stripes. Any slight variations in the form of size, colour, positioning etc. would be deemed a significant alteration from the registered trademark and therefore would invalidate the trademark. This would appear to be particularly harsh given the amount of trademarks Adidas hold across the world, and the clear link that the public hold between the three stripes and the sportswear giants. Having said this, allowing variations to specifically defined trademarks is a slippery slope that could potentially cause as many problems for the EUIPO as it would solutions.
No doubt Adidas are disappointed with this ruling. Luckily for them, as a multi-billion-euro company, they may well opt to attempt one final appeal in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). But, to many of us, this just simply wouldn’t be a viable option for most of us given the vast amounts of money that would be required. Adidas’s trademark troubles highlight the complexities of trademark disputes.
As we’ve been repeatedly told that Brexit will be coming before the year is out, you may be anxious about how this will affect your trademark(s), or how Britain’s exit from the EU will impact on intellectual property law. If you have any trademark issues, please don’t hesitate to contact the office for a chat.
By Andrew Stanley