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Adidas 3-stripes logo doesn't deserve trademark protection, EU court rules

The European Union General Court on Wednesday ruled against Adidas' claim that its famous three stripes, applied in any direction, deserve trademark protection. The ruling dealt a blow to a sports apparel giant that famously polices other companies and designers for any possible infringement on its logo.

The high court judgment upheld a 2016 decision from the European Union Intellectual Property Office, which dismissed Adidas' 2014 trademark application after determining the logo was "devoid of any distinctive character."

Similarly, the General Court said the German company could not prove that the stripes had a distinctive enough character throughout the 28-nation trade bloc. "The mark is not a pattern mark composed of a series of regularly repetitive elements, but an ordinary figurative mark," the court said in a statement

Adidas said it is disappointed in the ruling and is considering its next options.

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A series of "three-stripe" lawsuits

It's a rare loss for the sports apparel company, which has earned a tough reputation among competitors and fashion designers for aggressively litigating against anyone who has used stripes in their collections. 

New York designer Thom Browne switched the number of stripes from three to four in his signature line of grey suits after he was sued by the sportswear company. 

Adidas also exchanged blows with footwear brand Skechers. After partially winning a lawsuit in May 2018 over a Stan Smith tennis shoe lookalike, Adidas continued to notify Skechers over trademark violations throughout the year, leading Skechers to file a countersuit in late 2018, reported the Fashion Law website.

Skechers asked a federal court to determine that it was not running afoul of Adidas infringement claims for a different 4-stripe sneaker, arguing that consumers are unlikely to confuse Adidas sneakers with Skechers footwear, citing significant design differences. Its suit also noted that companies — including DVF, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, Paul Smith, Steve Madden, Tommy Hilfiger and Tory Burch — have all used variations of stripes with segmented color panels in their sneakers, according to the legal news website.  

Adidas also filed filed a lawsuit in 2015 against design house Marc Jacobs for using the three stripes in its Fall/Winter 2014 collection, demanding the company cease all sales of the offending garments. 

— CBS MoneyWatch reporter Sarah Min contributed additional reporting.