Editor's note: This article was published on March 28. On March 29, Adidas backed off its opposition to the trademark filing from Black Lives Matter. Read more about the reversal here.
Adidas opposes Black Lives Matter's 3-stripe trademark application
Adidas is known for being a fierce protector of its brand and trademark—the sportswear giant has tussled with the likes of Nike, Skechers and, more recently, designer Thom Browne in defense of its three stripes. Now, the German brand is opposing a new trademark application from Black Lives Matter in a move that could spark backlash.
This week, Adidas filed its opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, asserting that the three yellow stripes submitted by Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation Inc. could result in shopper confusion, a misperception potentially exacerbated by the fact that the trademark application includes the same clothing and footwear categories where Adidas sells products.
“Consumers familiar with the goods and services long associated with the Three Stripe Mark are likely to assume that the goods and services offered under Applicant’s Mark originate from the same source, or that they are affiliated, connected, or associated with or sponsored by adidas,” read Adidas’ opposition filing, which noted the similarity of Black Lives Matter’s parallel stripes to its own mark. The filing also noted that the goods and services identified by Black Lives Matter’s application “are identically and/or highly related to the goods and services adidas long has offered in connection with the Three-Stripe Mark.”
Black Lives Matter, which was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, is already using the three yellow stripes design on its website and on merchandise. Proceeds go to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, a nonprofit organization, according to BLM's website.
“Adidas would face an uphill battle in winning this case,” wrote Gerben, founding partner of Gerben Perrott, via email. “It seems unlikely that consumers are going to confuse the ‘three yellow stripe’ logo associated with Black Lives Matter to the Adidas stripes.” However, he said, Adidas’ goal may be to simply limit how Black Lives Matter uses its particular mark.
Adidas and BLM did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Though it recently lost its case against Browne, Adidas has prevailed in most of its earlier trademark cases against footwear rivals. However, by opposing Black Lives Matter, an entity focused on furthering diversity and inclusion and social justice, the brand could invite backlash.
“Adidas has a very robust brand protection program—they’ll go after two-and-a-half stripes, they’ll go after four stripes, so they certainly will go after three separate stripes parallel to one another,” said Susan Scafidi, a Fordham Law School professor and founder of the school’s Fashion Law Institute. “Adidas has to be vigilant, but it is tangled up in its own stripes with this particular issue given the concerns about bad publicity which they will really have to get out ahead of.”
She added that Adidas, which even has a trademark for the words “the brand with the 3 stripes,” could potentially win its dispute in multiple categories beyond clothing and footwear. “They could argue that even in other categories in which they’re not active, there is that test of a likelihood of consumer confusion and consumers might be led to believe that Adidas had sponsored the product,” Scafidi said.
The news of the trademark dispute comes on the heels of a report today from the Wall Street Journal that Adidas ended its partnership with Beyoncé for her Ivy Park clothing line amid lackluster sales.
In addition, Adidas faced backlash last year for its business relationship with Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, following the rapper’s public antisemitism and racism. That relationship was eventually terminated after public outcry. Adidas recently said it lost $540 million last year as a result and has an excessive amount of unsold Yeezy merchandise.