Few companies protect their logo from fire, such as sportswear manufacturer Adidas. When a German concern sees three stripes on clothing, it immediately goes on the attack. In the last 15 years alone, Adidas has filed more than 90 lawsuits for infringement of its trademark rights. Also, more than two hundred cases were resolved.
In cases against other clothing brands, many outsiders will understand such an approach. Adidas has been using its three stripes for over seventy years and has invested millions in its reputation. So it’s only logical that the company doesn’t want others to run with it. But in some cases it might be wise to think twice before issuing a summons, Adidas learned this week after a complaint against the anti-racism movement Black Lives Matter.
The reason for the conflict is the logo that Black Lives Matter (BLM) has been using for years. The system, which arose in response to police brutality against black citizens in the United States, uses three horizontal lines. About two and a half years ago, the movement decided to file for protection with the US Trademark Office, and that application is still pending.
In a defense filed on Monday, Adidas, the world’s second-largest sports brand behind Nike, filed an argument against the claim. According to the German group named after founder ‘Adi’ Dassler, the BLM logo is “confusing” with Adidas’s three stripes. As a result, the unique nature of the identity mark threatens to ‘scream’, the company said. There is also a risk of ‘confusion’ or ‘disappointment’ for consumers.
The fact that Black Lives Matter also uses stripes on sweaters, jackets and bags — products that Adidas sells, along with stripes — played a part in the demand. Consumers may think that the movement’s apparel is also from Adidas, the company said. In case of defects, it will cause serious damage to the reputation of ‘adidas’. The sports brand therefore requested that the Patent Office reject the application.
This Wednesday, less than 48 hours after filing, Adidas (21.2 billion euro turnover, 59,000 employees) decided to withdraw its objection. The company did not comment. Sources around the group told Reuters and the AFP news agency that the sudden turnaround was in response to much criticism the manufacturer had received in recent days.
In the claim, Adidas talks about the potential for consumers to “misassociate” with the company and movement. The agency now fears that such a defense could be interpreted as a criticism of the mission of Black Lives Matter. Adidas and the Anti-Racism Movement declined to comment to news outlets.
Just because Adidas is fanatically protective of its stripes doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. This is usually the case if a competitor uses three stripes, but Adidas sees a risk in other stripe numbers as well. Earlier this year, the company lost a lawsuit against luxury brand Thom Browne for using the four stripes. A similar case happened two years ago against clothing company H&M, which sold two-striped sportswear.
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