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Don’t even try it.
THREE STRIPES, YOU'RE OUT

Adidas has sued pretty much everyone who has used stripes

By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz

Earlier this week, Adidas lost a trademark battle over its iconic three-stripe logo after a European Union court ruled it wasn’t “distinctive” enough to merit broadened protections. The court’s decision is the latest in the German sneaker giant’s incredibly long history of trying to elbow out any company that dares to use stripes.

The three-stripe symbol was first registered by Adidas founder Adolf “Adi” Dassler in the 1950s after he bought it off of a small Finnish sportswear brand called Karhu, which had beat him to it. The brand’s trefoil logo appeared alongside the stripes on shoes and apparel in the 1970s, but the three-stripe motif was reintroduced as the sole logo on Adidas footwear and apparel in 1997.

Since then, the shoe company has been waging war on all those who attempt to infringe on the logo, including companies that use two, four, and even up to seven stripes in designs.

Reuters/Michael Dalder
Adidas’s trefoil logo, which served more as a corporate symbol after its run in the 70s.

While Christian Louboutin’s successful trademarking of its signature red shoe soles is probably the most recognizable of the petty fashion copycat cases, Adidas is notorious for taking just about anyone to court who dares to use stripes.

According to a 2008 court filing in which Adidas sued Payless Shoesource for, yes, copying its three-stripe trademark, Adidas “has pursued over 325 infringement matters involving the Three-Stripe mark in the United States” since 1995, including 35 separate lawsuits and 45 settlements with the alleged infringers.

Here’s a look at some of the most notable of these lawsuits from the last few decades—a list that includes departments stores, rival apparel companies, and auto manufacturers:

Adidas vs. its shoe rivals

Nike and Adidas have a long history of legal gripes, including a debate over knit shoes that’s still ongoing. A 2005 case that Adidas filed against its competitor in Germany argued that Nike’s use of two parallel stripes on some of its apparel infringed on Adidas’s three-stripe design. A German court ruled in favor of Adidas.

Several years later, Payless was ordered to pay $305 million to Adidas for “willfully infringing” on the three-stripe trademark. In more recent shoemaker strife, Adidas hit athletic apparel competitor Puma with an infringement complaint in 2017 over the four-stripe design of one of its soccer cleats.

And in 2018, Adidas settled a trademark infringement suit over a Skechers shoe that resembled Adidas Stan Smith sneakers. Now the company is again claiming that a different Skechers shoe—the “Goldie-Peak”—is infringing on the three-stripe trademark. That suit is ongoing.

Adidas vs. the apparel world

In its first lawsuit (and third complaint) against Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas sued the retailer in 2005 for apparel that featured three parallel stripes running down sleeves and pant legs. Likewise, Adidas sued fast fashion retailer Forever21 over cartoon-covered garments with three-stripes along the arms. The two parties settled in 2017.

The same year, Adidas claimed that the Los Angeles-based designer Juicy Couture “intentionally adopted and used counterfeit and/or confusingly similar imitations of the Three-Stripe Mark” in its apparel, referring to several of its sweatsuit designs.

And downmarket kids gear isn’t the only target. Ralph Lauren was hit with a suit in 2014 after Adidas claimed a Polo jacket with two stripes on the sleeve was a little too close to an Adidas jacket with three stripes. One year later, Adidas took Marc Jacobs to court over sweaters with four stripes running down their arms. Marc Jabos and Adidas settled in 2016.

Adidas vs. department stores

Some of Adidas longest-running disputes stem from major department stores hawking two- and four-striped shoes. Adidas settled its third trademark lawsuit against retailer Walmart in 2008, claiming it sold striped shoes that diluted the Adidas brand. Adidas then sued Target and Kmart the same year—over the exact same thing.

Adidas also leveled a suit against Sears for trademark infringement after the department store chain sold various shoes with striped patterns on them.

Adidas vs. everyone else

It’s not just apparel and shoe companies that Adidas has its eyes on. In 2016, the sportswear giant alleged that the application for trademark registration for the Nike-partnered football team, FC Barcelona, should be denied. According to Adidas, the team’s logo “consists of a square containing seven vertical stripes (the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th stripes from the left are blue, and the remaining three stripes are garnet),” which was too similar to its famous three-stripe mark.

In 2017, Tesla preemptively changed its logo from three parallel bars to its signature “T” and withdrew its application to trademark the previous design. In spite of that, the shoemaker still filed a suit to prevent the electric car company from registering the striped logo. Tesla maintained that its change to a “T” was a branding decision, and not a response to Adidas.