Adidas logoGerman sportswear giant Adidas has won its legal battle regarding its distinctive ‘three stripes’ and can now prevent other manufacturers from using similar designs on their products.

The European Court of Justice ruled that “the mere fact that the relevant section of the public establishes a link between the two is sufficient”.

It follows a case brought by Adidas in Holland against C&A, H&M, Marca Mode and Vendex.

“They’re trying to distinguish a distinctive logo, such as the Nike swoosh, against a non-distinctive brand such as three stripes,” said Gary Assim, head of intellectual property at Shoosmiths Solicitors.

“But the three stripes have built up distinctiveness. Its reputation spans 70-odd years, so it’s difficult not to associate three stripes with Adidas.”

Adidas 3 stripes

Adidas welcomed the ruling and stressed that it was not trying to prevent all use of stripes.

Anne Putz from the company released an email statement which read; “We do not seek to prevent the use of decoration, but the use of striped markings that confuse consumers, or cause them to make a link with our company.”

The court confirmed that what was important was whether consumers associated another company’s clothing with the Adidas brand, not how similar the designs looked.

The move disappointed C&A who were less than happy with the verdict. They argued that a “decorative motif” like stripes is so commonly used that there should be a limit to Adidas’s trademark rights.

“Stripes are used a lot on sports clothing to give it a speedy character and also on more formal clothing, such as suits,” said Daan de Lange, a lawyer working in Amsterdam for Brinkhof, which represented C&A. The company argued that competitors must be allowed to use such stripes in a decorative manner, he said.

“The decision is rather disappointing,” said de Lange. “It is absolutely more favorable to Adidas than to the two- stripe manufacturers,” he said, referring to C&A and Hennes & Mauritz, which were selling sports clothing with double stripes.

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