Adidas and fashion house Thom Browne are facing off in a New York court after the sportswear giant claimed that the house’s use of parallel bars on its apparel infringed on Adidas’ trademarked “Three Stripes.”
The jury trial, which commenced at Manhattan’s Southern District Court on Tuesday, follows a 2021 lawsuit in which Adidas argued that activewear featuring Thom Browne’s striped motifs “imitates” its decades-old branding.
American designer Thom Browne founded his eponymous label in 2001 and is the newly appointed chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Browne, who arrived at court wearing one of his signature four-striped socks, had initially debuted a three-striped design, dubbed the “Three-Bar Signature,” around 2005. According to court documents, his fashion brand agreed to cease using the motif after Adidas contacted the label’s then-CEO about the matter two years later.
Fashion Designer Thom Browne arrives to court on January 3 wearing one of his brand’s signature four-striped socks. Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty
In 2008, designer Browne debuted his disputed “Four-Bar Signature,” a series of four stripes that have featured on items ranging from jackets to neckties, as well as on activewear. Adidas is also challenging the use of Thom Browne’s “Grosgrain Signature,” a red, white and blue design that the sportswear brand says consists of three stripes, while Thom Browne says it contains five, describing it as “white-red-white-blue-white,” in court papers.
Adidas has been using three stripes since 1949, when German founder Adolf Dassler featured it on a pair of spiked running shoes. In its lawsuit filing, the company argued that Thom Browne’s use of striped motifs on its activewear was “likely to cause consumer confusion and deceive the public.”
A model wears a design from the Thom Browne Spring-Summer 2023 collection, debuted in Paris in October last year. Credit: Peter White/Getty
Lawyers representing Thom Browne have meanwhile argued that Adidas exercised unreasonable delay in asserting its claims. Court documents say products featuring the “Four-Bar Signature” were first sold in 2009 and were displayed on items of activewear at the fashion brand’s flagship New York store from 2010.
The sportswear giant claims it only became aware of the alleged infringement in early 2018, when Thom Browne applied to trademark the “Grosgrain Signature” (often referred to as Signature Grosgrain on the brand’s website) in Europe. Adidas’ lawyers argue that the company had no duty to monitor Thom Browne’s output and did not initially consider the label to be a direct competitor.
Court documents show the parties unsuccessfully attempted to reach an out-of-court settlement.