Every company has some form of intellectual property. It’s that product or service that sets you aside from others in your sector; it’s the name and logo that are linked with your brand and reputation – it’s the secret recipe that gives your customers a reason to choose you instead of your competitor.
For German sportswear manufacturer Adidas, it’s the three stripes. While the logo has evolved to take many forms over the years, those three stripes have been ever-present since the company started using them to identify their footwear in the late 50s.
Little known to some, however, they were not the first. In fact, it was Finnish sports brand Karhu who sold its three stripes trademark to the now well-known Adidas in 1952. The price? Two bottles of good whiskey and about 1,600 euros. The branding became so successful that Dassler described Adidas as “The three stripes company”.
Fast forward almost seventy years and Adidas is one of the most valuable athletic apparel, accessories, and footwear companies in the world. Having spent decades building their brand, those three stripes now mean a lot more than just a means of differentiation. It’s their intellectual property that is protected through trademark; it’s a marker of quality and a symbol that represents their brand, their values and their history.
So, when a number of domain names began selling counterfeit goods that infringed on the trademark they had paid good money (and whiskey) to make their own, they didn’t hesitate to take legal action. In a lawsuit filed at the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on May 30, Adidas said that it was suffering “ongoing daily and sustained violations of [its] respective trademark rights at the hands of counterfeiters and infringers”.
The sports brand claimed that the infringing domains were operating an illegal online marketplace which had a clear intention of stealing the IP of Adidas as well as that of other well-known brands.
Adidas has spent many years and considerable financial resources building its brand through sponsorship agreements with sports stars such as footballer Lionel Messi and National Football League quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the complaint said. This is in addition to its sponsorship of world famous sports tournaments such as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup and the Boston Marathon. Beyond sponsorships, the company has been a pioneer of collaborations, striking partnerships with companies such as Disney to create limited edition designs.
UK sportswear manufacturer Reebok, which is owned by Adidas, also asserted three of its logos in the suit. Reebok illustrated the strength of their brand by citing their exclusive apparel and footwear sponsorship deal with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s largest mixed martial arts promoter.
This is just the latest effort by Adidas to enforce it’s intellectual property and crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods. In fact, in 2018, the company took nearly 200 defendants to court over the sale of counterfeit footwear including brands like Marc Jacobs, Forever 21, APL, and Skechers and Ecco, who the company claimed “intentionally adopted and used counterfeit and/or confusingly similar imitations of the Three-Stripe Mark knowing that they would mislead and deceive consumers into believing that the [sneakers] were produced, authorized, or licensed by Adidas, or that they originated from adidas.”
In the latest suit, adidas and Reebok issued a complaint claiming blatant trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition, and cybersquatting against the domains. They are now seeking a court order that will force either the cancelling of the offending domains or the parties behind them to transfer ownership to the plaintiffs. Adidas and Reebok are further seeking a court order for search engines to permanently delist the infringing domains.