Everything You Need to Know About the Adidas vs. Thom Browne Trademark Case [UPDATED]

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The battle between Thom Browne and Adidas over a striped design signature dates back to 2007. But it’s reached new heights in 2023, with both companies appearing in Manhattan court over the trademark dispute.

Read on for the latest on the Adidas vs. Thom Browne trademark case. 

The Lawsuit

Thom Browne football 2022 campaign

Thom Browne football 2022 campaign

Adidas has been using its three-stripe logo since the 1950s, and has a litigious streak when it comes to striped brand signifiers, previously winning similar disputes against brands like Sketchers, Juicy Couture and Marc Jacobs.However, Adidas is claiming (per ) it wasn’t made aware of the alleged infringement until a decade later, in 2018, when Thom Browne applied for a trademark of its Grosgrain Signature — a red, white and blue-stripe logo — in Europe and expanded into sportswear. (The latter, in the company’s eyes, made it a more direct competitor.) Adidas then approached the brand for a settlement. 

Thom Browne’s varsity-stripe motif goes back 15 years. The brand’s initial version had three stripes; Robert T. Maldonado, Browne’s attorney in the case, alleges (per Vogue Business) that the brand pivoted to the current Four-Bar Signature after Adidas’ then-CEO reached out about the similarities between them in 2007. 

However, according to CNN, Adidas is claiming it wasn’t made aware of alleged infringement until a decade later, in 2018, when Thom Browne applied for a trademark of its Grosgrain Signature — the a red, white and blue-stripe logo — in Europe and expanded into sportswear. (The latter, in the company’s eyes, made it a more direct competitor.) Adidas then approached the brand for a settlement.

After unsuccessful attempts to settle the matter on their own, Adidas went the legal route, filing a trademark infringement and dilution complaint against Thom Browne in the summer 2021. It claimed in a New York federal court that the brand is “selling athletic-style apparel and footwear featuring two, three or four parallel stripes in a manner that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s three-stripe mark,” and is seeking $867,225 in damages, as well as the $7,011,961 in profits.

Thom Browne CEO Rodrigo Bazan issued a statement to to WWD in response to the lawsuit at the time. “We believe we are right and we are confident in the outcome of the case, as we have acted honorably for all this time,” he said. “[Adidas] consented for 12 years and now they are changing their mind. The court won’t allow that. And consumers won’t as well. It is an attempt to use the law illegally.”

The Testimony

thom browne adidas lawsuit court

On Monday, Jan. 9, Browne testified in front of an eight-person jury at Manhattan’s Southern District Court about his active upbringing in Pennsylvania, and how that resulted in a love of sports that ultimately inspired his use of varsity stripes. He said he wanted to create an “external signifier” that would render his label immediately recognizable, per reporting from WWD. This led him to the three stripes featured on varsity sweaters and collegiate pieces, speaking to the brand ethos of blending tailored clothing with sportswear. 

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“Every collection and garment I design has a sporting reference,” he said, according to WWD.

To support the claim that the brand pivoted following a conversation with Adidas’ then-CEO about the stripes, Browne’s legal team juxtaposed design sketches from Fall 2008 (before the executive allegedly reach out, featuring three bars) with some from Spring 2009, which had the four bars.

Thom Browne is arguing that Adidas intentionally stayed silent on the issue for the following decade, during which time Thom Browne experienced significant growth. Adidas argues that it had no obligation to monitor Thom Browne’s output during that time.

Browne also reasons that, while the grosgrain red, white and blue ribbon has become a trademark of Thom Browne, the four parallel bars seen running down a suit leg or jacket arm are a design choice. 

Charles Henn, who is representing Adidas, tried to differentiate tailored clothing from sportswear in court by asking Thom Browne to describe specific products via imagery — which the designer repeatedly characterized simply as “tailored sportswear.” 

We’ll continue to update this story as new developments emerge.

UPDATE, Jan. 12, 5:00 p.m.:

Thom Browne has won the trademark case against Adidas. The eight-person jury found the American designer not guilty of infringing upon the sport giant’s three-stripe emblem. 

On Thursday, attorneys for both Adidas and Thom Browne presented their final and closing arguments against the lawsuit. Browne’s supporters filled the right side of the courtroom, and were decked out in head-to-toe looks from the brand. 

According to WWD, Maldonado (Browne’s attorney) began his closing argument with a simple statement: “Adidas does not own stripes.”

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