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Sporting goods manufacturer: Adidas and Nike argue over stripe design

Sporting goods manufacturer: Adidas and Nike argue over stripe design

The three stripes are Adidas trademarks. The sporting goods manufacturer has filed a lawsuit against its competitor Nike – because the design is too similar. The US company is defending itself against the verdict.

How many stripes arranged in a certain shape can be seen on a pair of Nike pants? The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court has been dealing with this question since this week. The appeal process opened on Tuesday. The background is a dispute between the sporting goods manufacturers Nike and Adidas. The presiding judge Erfried Schüttpelz wants to announce the verdict on May 28th.

The reason for the dispute is the three parallel stripes, the well-known Adidas trademark. Because some Nike pants were supposedly too similar to its own design, the Herzogenaurach-based company saw its trademark protection violated in 2022. The Düsseldorf Regional Court then issued a ruling banning Nike from offering five specific pairs of pants within Germany. The US company lodged an objection. A year later, in September 2023, the regional court confirmed the decision, but Nike appealed the ruling – and now a decision must be made again.

Adidas lawyer: “A targeted attack”

From the US company’s point of view, the scope of protection claimed by Adidas is too narrow with regard to the stripe patterns. “Not everything that has stripes falls within the scope of protection,” said Nike lawyer Burkhard Führmeyer in the oral hearing. Stripes on the side of pants have been around for a long time. It is advisable to attach these as decorations and decorative elements. The design of Nike products differs from Adidas – among other things, through different numbers and widths of stripes, spaces and color contrasts. The Nike Swoosh logo is also clearly visible to consumers.

From Adidas’ perspective, the main legal question is: “Is Nike allowed to do that? How broad is the scope of protection?” argued lawyer Christian Rassmann. The large number of striped products from Nike are “a targeted attack” on Adidas. In cases like this, trademark protection exists to protect the owner, who has built up his trademark over decades. Rassmann asked: “Will my brand still work if a competitor starts releasing similar products on the market in large quantities?” In addition to the risk of confusion, this primarily leads to the Adidas brand being diluted.

Judge: “We have to draw a line somewhere”

Judge Schüttpelz sees a legal dilemma above all. “We have to draw a line somewhere. But where?” The well-known Adidas stripes are known to a large part of the German population. However, consumers would therefore quickly recognize when it is not Adidas. Nevertheless, well-known brands are entitled to greater legal protection. With regard to the trousers in question, he announced that he would decide on a case-by-case basis whether they were perhaps too close to the Adidas design and therefore objectionable – or not. However, this requires some time, said the judge at the end of the hearing.

There have been repeated legal disputes over the stripes in the past. In 2019, Adidas lost before the General Court of the European Union. This had decided that Adidas’ three stripes were not protected by trademark law in every form and design. A year earlier, Adidas achieved success. The background at the time was a competitor’s attempt to have shoes with two parallel horizontal stripes protected by the EU Trademark Office. There was already a dispute with Nike in 2005. At that time, Adidas enforced that the US company’s trouser models with a two-stripe marking violated trademark rights and could no longer be sold.

Source: Stern

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