EU Rejects Adidas Claim Against Thom Browne’s Grosgrain Ribbon

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LONDON Adidas has suffered another setback in its courtroom efforts to block Thom Browne from using his signature stripes and grosgrain ribbon.

The Opposition Division of the European Union Intellectual Property Office, which is based in Spain, has rejected Adidas’ efforts to block Thom Browne from registering the brand’s multi-striped grosgrain ribbon in the EU.

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The division handed down the decision late Friday, and told Adidas to pay the costs of 300 euros for making the claim.

Adidas did not return a request for comment Monday. Thom Browne declined to comment.

The EU’s 20-page decision came complete with illustrations, diagrams and charts.

It also featured color images of athletes wearing striped Adidas sports clothing, and Thom Browne customers wearing the designer’s apparel and footwear with white stripes and the signature grosgrain ribbon.

The ribbon features five stripes in the following order: white, red, white, blue and white.

The division said “it is unlikely that the relevant public will make a mental connection between the signs in dispute, that is to say, establish a ‘link’ between them. Therefore, the opposition is not well founded, and must be rejected.”

The three members of the EU panel had argued that audiences were sufficiently savvy to recognize the difference between a piece of athletic gear with three diagonal stripes on it, and a piece of designer clothing with multicolored stripes done in grosgrain.

According to the EU, any party adversely affected by the decision has a right to appeal. A notice of appeal must be filed in writing at the office within two months of the date of notification of the decision.

The EU decision, signed by Valeria Anchini, Chiara Borace and Marta Garcia Collado, is the latest chapter in an ongoing courtroom drama that originally saw Adidas sue Thom Browne in Manhattan Southern District Court for trademark infringement over the designer’s use of stripes in his branding.

Last January, an eight-person jury came back with a verdict that found Thom Browne was not liable for damages or profits that it made selling product with four stripes, or its trademark striped grosgrain ribbon.

As reported, the German sports brand has asked for a new trial because of undisclosed emails that it uncovered as part of a separate case that it is pursuing against Thom Browne in the U.K.

The U.S. judge has yet to make a decision on the case.

The original case saw Adidas America and Adidas AG sue Browne for using four stripes on some of the American designer’s active-inspired merchandise, saying it created confusion with the sports brand.

The athletic giant had sought $867,225 in damages — the amount that Thom Browne Inc. would have paid in licensing fees, had they worked together officially. In addition, Adidas had sought $7 million in profits — the amount the company alleged that the designer earned from selling four-striped apparel and footwear.

Browne had been using three stripes on his collections for many years to reference collegiate varsity sweaters, but, after being approached by Adidas in 2007, agreed to change the design to four parallel bars.

Adidas has been using its three-stripe bar in the U.S. since the 1950s. The athletic brand spends $300 million a year advertising the stripes, and products sporting the mark account for $3.1 billion in annual sales.

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