EU Court rules against Adidas in Trademark Case

Logo Lacking Distinct Character

Dr. Silvana Zammit | Published on 19 Jun 2019

EU Court rules against Adidas

A long-running dispute between German sportswear giants Adidas and Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe BVBA was finally put to rest by the General Court of the European Union after the Court ruled against Adidas. 

In 2014, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) had registered in favour of Adidas an EU trademark consisting of three parallel equidistant stripes of identical width, applied on the product in any direction for clothing, footwear and headgear. Two years later in 2016, following an application filed with the EUIPO by Shoe Branding Europe BVBA, the EUIPO issued a declaration of invalidity in relation to the Adidas mark, thereby annulling the registration of the said mark on the ground that it was devoid of any distinctive character, whether inherently or acquired through use.  

Registration of Mark Declared Invalid 

The recent judgement delivered by the General Court upheld the annulment decision, thereby dismissing Adidas’ action filed against the declaration of invalidity. Accordingly, the EUIPO confirmed that the mark should not have been registered and further explained that Adidas failed to prove that the mark had acquired, throughout the territory of the EU, distinctive character following the commercial use thereof. Trademark lawyers also maintained that Adidas had failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that when seeing three stripes on clothing, footwear or headgear, consumers immediately associate such products with Adidas.  

Consequences of the Ruling 

Whilst trademark lawyers explained that the outcome of the ruling will result in enormous costs for the company, since failing to acquire trademark registration in certain countries, such as Malta can prove to be a key failure, it should be noted that this ruling is limited to this particular execution of the three-stripe mark and it does not therefore affect the broad scope of protection that Adidas has on its well-known three-stripe mark in various forms in the EU. In fact, this trademark invalidation will not make a practical difference on the street since Adidas has trademarks on the three-stripe logo in various specific positions such as the slanting three-striped logo. However, this ruling highlights the potential challenges that well-known established brands face when trying to expand their trademark designs in order to gain more protection across the EU. Some other major companies who also failed to trademark their designs include Nestle in 2018 with its “four trapezoidal bars aligned on a rectangular base” – more famously known as KitKat, and Nike who lost a trademark dispute against activewear brand LNDR in 2018 as well. 

Finally, after Adidas expressed that it was “disappointed” with the ruling of the General Court and that it is still evaluating its implications, an appeal, limited to points of law only, may be brought before the European Court of Justice. 

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