Adidas logo above an Adidas basketball shoe

Luxury designer Thom Browne triumphs in trademark battle against Adidas

By James Wan

What you need to know (in a nutshell)

  1. Adidas lost a court case to stop luxury brand Thom Browne Inc from using a four-stripe design, which Adidas had argued was too similar to its own three stripes.
  2. The jury in New York sided with Browne, who argued that his designs were unlikely to be confused with Adidas’ and that the two brands served different customers.
  3. This legal battle between the two companies has been ongoing for over 15 years, with Browne having previously agreed to stop using a three-stripe design on jackets in 2007 and added a fourth stripe.

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Adidas, the globally recognised sportswear giant, recently faced a setback in their legal battle against luxury fashion brand Thom Browne Inc. over the use of a four-stripe design. The sportswear conglomerate sought a staggering $7.8 million in damages, asserting that Thom Browne’s design too closely resembled its iconic three-stripe logo, infringing upon its trademarked symbol. However, the jury in New York ruled in favour of Thom Browne Inc., concluding that consumers were unlikely to be confused between the two brands’ distinct designs.

Thom Browne Inc.‘s hallmark style features four horizontal, parallel stripes adorning garments and socks, a design element easily distinguishable from Adidas’ signature three-stripe motif. In their defence, Thom Browne Inc. positioned itself as an underdog, catering to a different clientele than Adidas. Despite offering sportswear-related items such as leggings and polo shirts, Thom Browne’s products primarily target affluent consumers, with price tags ranging from £680 for women’s compression leggings to £270 for a polo shirt.

The ongoing dispute between Adidas and Thom Browne over striped designs spans over 15 years. In 2007, Adidas raised concerns over Thom Browne’s use of three stripes on jackets, prompting the designer to add a fourth stripe to avoid further legal action. Since then, Thom Browne Inc. had experienced remarkable growth, with its products now available at over 300 locations worldwide and an expanded offering that includes athletic apparel—a far cry from the brand’s position in 2021 when the conflict first erupted.

While Adidas boasts a diverse fanbase that includes professional footballer, Bournemouth manager Scott Parker, and rapper Cardi B, the sportswear titan was unsuccessful in its recent intellectual property case against Thom Browne Inc. A spokesperson for Adidas expressed disappointment in the verdict but reaffirmed the company’s commitment to vigorously enforcing intellectual property rights in the future. On the other hand, a representative for Thom Browne Inc. conveyed satisfaction with the outcome, and designer Thom Browne expressed hope that this victory would inspire others facing similar challenges from powerful companies. Browne underscored the importance of “fight[ing] and tell[ing] my story” through legal action against Adidas’ alleged copyright infringement.

Since 2008, Adidas has been notably litigious, initiating over 90 court cases and entering into more than 200 settlement agreements relating to its trademark. These figures were unveiled through documents submitted as evidence during the trial.