Adidas and fashion house Thom Browne are facing off in court in New York after the sportswear giant claimed that the use of parallel bars on its clothing infringed on Adidas’ trademark “Three Stripes.”
The jury trial, which began Tuesday in Manhattan’s Southern District Court, follows a 2021 lawsuit in which Adidas claimed that Thom Browne’s striped activewear “mimics” its decades-old brand.
American designer Thom Browne founded his eponymous label in 2001 and is the newly appointed president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Browne, who arrived on the court wearing one of his signature four-bar socks, initially debuted the three-bar design, dubbed the “Three-Bar Signature,” around 2005. According to court documents, his fashion label agreed to stop using the motif after Adidas contacted the label’s then-CEO about it two years later.
Fashion designer Thom Browne arrives in court on January 3 wearing one of his brand’s signature four-stripe socks. Credit: Michael M. Santiago/Getty
In 2008, designer Browne debuted his controversial “four-stripe signature,” a series of four stripes found on items ranging from jackets to ties, as well as sportswear. Adidas also disputes 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 documents.
Adidas has used the three stripes since 1949, when German founder Adolf Dassler put them on a pair of spiked running shoes. In filing the lawsuit, the company argued that Thom Browne’s use of striped motifs on its sportswear was “likely to cause consumer confusion and mislead the public.”
The model wears a design from the Thom Browne Spring-Summer 2023 collection, which debuted in Paris last October. Credit: Peter White/Getty
Lawyers representing Thom Browne, meanwhile, argued that Adidas had unduly delayed filing the claim. Court documents say the “four-line signature” products were first sold in 2009 and have been displayed on activewear items at the fashion brand’s New York flagship store since 2010.
The sportswear giant claims it only became aware of the alleged infringement in early 2018, when Thom Browne filed for the “Grosgrain Signature” trademark (often referred to as Signature Grosgrain on the brand’s website) in Europe. Adidas’ lawyers argue that the company had no obligation to monitor Thom Browne’s production and that it did not initially consider the label to be direct competition.
Court documents show the parties have tried unsuccessfully to reach an out-of-court settlement.