Published November 2, 2023

Undeterred by its varying success rates in trademark disputes, Adidas finds itself embroiled in another legal battle. You guessed it – it concerns its iconic three-striped logo once again. The sportswear giant opposed LIV Golf League’s trademark applications for their logos, claiming that they bear a high resemblance to their own three-striped design. Adidas submitted that the logo used by LIV Golf is likely to mislead the public into believing that the goods and services provided by LIV Golf come from Adidas or are associated with it. Yet again, the extent of Adidas’ rights to its renowned stripes is at the core of the dispute.

Adidas’ first trademark application dates back to 1949. The very first logo used by the brand featured a spiked shoe with three stripes, positioned between elongated extensions on the two “d’s” in “Adidas”. Since then, the company has expanded its trademark portfolio monumentally and now owns a whopping number of over 6,000 trademarks globally.

Adidas has established a name for itself as an aggressive player in the trademark world, due to its combative approach when it comes to protecting its intellectual property rights. The brand has filed over 90 lawsuits, and some well-known brands like Skechers, Ecco, Marc Jacobs, and Tesla are amongst those sued for infringing on its three-stripe trademark. A majority of these cases were settled outside of the courtroom, with the opposed brands agreeing to various undertakings.

One possible outcome of this case is that, to avoid further litigation, LIV Golf may agree to modify the design or cease using it on specific goods. It is worth noting that LIV Golf filed separate striped-design applications for each class. This approach suggests that they may have anticipated objections and wanted to preserve the mark’s use on specific goods and services, even if they had to relinquish others. Notwithstanding, Adidas opposed all of LIV Golf’s applications.

If the case were to go to trial, a recent judgment in the Thom Browne case could be an indication of how things may go. Despite Adidas and Thom Browne being in the same industry, the brands were found to “operate in different markets, serving different customers, and offer their products at strikingly different price points”, resulting in the absence of any likelihood of confusion.

Even though the goods offered by Adidas and LIV Golf are undoubtedly related, they are not necessarily in competition with each other. LIV Golf is a professional golf tour and not a clothing brand like Adidas. The purpose of LIV Golf’s branded merch is to boost the promotion of their events, rather than to offer sportswear, and both brands’ products are unlikely to be offered in the same stores. There are also some visual differences between the marks; the LIV Golf logo incorporates a four-striped design and is used exclusively in an L-shaped format. Additionally, the strength of Adidas’ three-striped mark has been subject to debate for a while now, with EUIPO invalidating its registration in 2019 due to the lack of distinctive character. The verdict of the Thom Browne case reaffirmed that despite the long-term use and wide recognition, Adidas simply does not own the stripes. While the sportswear manufacturer has recently appealed this judgment, overturning it seems improbable.

The courts have a somewhat problematic task here of drawing a line (or three) between companies enforcing their intellectual property rights to protect their brand and them having a monopoly on the use of a design that in itself is not that unique, consequently preventing others from using it, and potentially dampening creative expression.

That being said, aggressive litigation tactics, including threatened oppositions and demanding cease and desist letters are a popular strategy amongst big companies with significant financial resources. To them, the outcome of the case might be of secondary importance; the mere act of bringing a claim serves as a potent deterrent for competitors, who will definitely think twice before deciding to implement a design that is so fiercely safeguarded.


Alicja Wroczynska

Written by Alicja Wroczynska

Trade Mark Paralegal, Fox Williams LLP

Fox Williams LLP

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