Three little lines are at the heart of a major trademark lawsuit

Glenn W. Peterson

In our post last week, we discussed the importance of symbols, logos and names in branding products. Many companies not only trademark their name but also a familiar design or logo associated with their brand. Humans inherently recognize symbols and patterns – a trait that companies have long been capitalizing on.

If you saw a pair of athletic shorts or pants with three parallel stripes running down the outsides, you’d probably guess that they were made by Adidas, even if you didn’t see the brand name on the clothing item. The simple design has been carefully cultivated by Adidas for maximum brand association. The company is so protective of its “Three-Stripe Mark,” in fact, that it is suing a popular clothing company for trademark infringement.

In its lawsuit, Adidas alleges that Forever 21 is violating trademark laws and making counterfeit/imitation Adidas products. The company claims that some of the apparel made/sold by Forever 21 is “identical and/or confusingly similar” to Adidas products, in that the Three-Stripe Mark is used. The lawsuit seeks to stop Forever 21 from using the Three-Stripe Mark. It also seeks monetary damages.

At first blush, it may seem odd to be so protective of three parallel stripes; a design so simple that some might wonder if it could even be trademarked. But the design stands for something more important that Adidas wants to protect: brand loyalty based on brand recognition. Adidas has carefully crafted its brand over decades, and it does not want other companies profiting from the use of a design element that consumers associate with one of the world’s most popular shoe and clothing manufacturers.

Adidas and other companies have registered trademarks for their logos and designs. But as we mentioned last week, a company may be able to protect an unregistered trademark if it has been used in commerce. If you are dealing with a legal issue related to trademarks or any other intellectual property matter, please discuss your case with an experienced business law attorney.