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Adidas, a sportswear giant, lost a legal battle against high-end fashion designer Thom Browne in 2021. The fight was about three stripes on clothing. Adidas said the stripes on Thom Browne’s clothes looked too much like their famous Adidas stripes. Adidas claimed this infringed their trademark and weakened their brand.  But the judge didn’t agree.

The judge focused on a few key details to justify this decision.  First, stripes are a common design in fashion and using stripes in general is not Adidas’s exclusive right. This is important because the judge noticed Thom Browne’s clothes have stripes that are not exactly like Adidas’ famous ones.

Second, casual clothing and high-fashion are different products. Adidas sells sportswear, while Thom Browne sells fancy clothes. The judge said people won’t mix up the two brands because of this fact.

Finally, sportswear marketplaces are different than high-fashion ones.  High-fashion goods are expensive and so customers pay closer attention to what they are buying in the high-fashion marketplace.  So, the judge thought people aren’t likely to mix up the two brands.

This case highlights how easy it can be for companies to overreach when trying to enforce their trademarks in court. In this case, Adidas couldn’t prove that the stripes on Thom Browne’s clothes would confuse people or hurt their brand because Adidas’ claimed ownership of any style of three stripes was too far off. This means that companies need to think carefully about their case and scope of trademark rights before going to court.

Bryce Johnson is a partner in the Austin office for Buche & Associates, P.C.; phone: 512-215-4997

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