Fashion retailer H&M has defeated Adidas in a long-standing trademark dispute about Adidas’ distinctive three-stripe logo.
A decades-long legal battle was settled before the Hague Court of Appeal with a ruling that the H&M two-stripe block colour logo does not infringe Adidas’ three-stripe emblem.
German sports-giant Adidas has since the 1970s registered several trademarks in Benelux for its famous black and white ‘three-stripe’ logo on sports gear.
The Adidas logo is three equally-sized and equally-spaced vertical, parallel stripes.
In 1997, Adidas brought an infringement case against H&M in the Netherlands for their branded sportswear with its two parallel stripes.
The case proceeded through the courts and eventually reached Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
H&M lawyers argued that its use of the two stripes was a decorative use of a common pattern rather than a trademark.
The CJEU considered whether generic patterns were relevant when “assessing the scope of protection of a trademark that is inherently non-distinctive or descriptive, but registrable as a result of distinctiveness acquired through use”.
The CJEU ruled in favour of Adidas but the Hague Court of Appeal has now decided that the similarity between the three-stripe and two-stripe logos was only “to a low degree on the basis that they displayed a different number of stripes, spacing width and overall image”.
Consumer surveys presented in court showed that only ten per cent of buyers would potentially confuse the two brands.
Well-known trademarks have higher protection thanks to consumer recognition market awareness but their very distinctiveness mitigates against confusion and allows for more freedom for designers