The Brand With 3 Stripes, Bands, or Stitches?

by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.
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We’ve written a lot over the years about Adidas’ three-stripe non-verbal, non-traditional trademark. Turns out, Adidas actually owns a federally-registered trademark for the verbal, spelled-out, look-for advertising equivalent too, called: The Brand With The 3 Stripes®.

We haven’t until now probed the meaning of “stripe” though: “A long narrow band or strip, typically of the same width throughout its length, differing in color or texture from the surface on either side of it.” Synonyms include, lines, bands, belts and bars, among others.

See where I’m headed? What is a reasonable scope of rights for this likely famous mark?

Interestingly, whether by strategic design or unintentional lack of consistency, Adidas has called versions of its three-stripe device mark at the USPTO, three parallel bands, three diagonal quadrilaterals, and three slanted quadrilateral bars too.

Whatever the verbiage though, the first time I encountered the competing Lululemon brand, my eyes were drawn to the consistent application of three parallel lines positioned on the upper chest/shoulder area of the shirt, leaving me to wonder why Adidas tolerates this non-functional marking and symbol, especially given its heavy enforcement appetite:

Turns out, Adidas spoke up a few years back when Lululemon applied to federally register a non-traditional trademark described as “three parallel bars applied to the front left-hand seam of the upper chest/shoulder area of the shirt, t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweater, tank-top or jacket,” as shown in the drawing below:

It’s curious that Lululemon chose to call the three parallel lines, “bands,” (Adidas verbiage) especially since during prosecution it described a “Three Stitch Design mark,” which seems more accurate, yet after convincing the USPTO that Lululemon had a distinctive non-traditional mark, Adidas came knocking and opposed anyway.

Having said that, Adidas knocked only so hard, as its mission appears to have been focused on preventing registration only, not use, since the use persists several years later. Wouldn’t you enjoy the opportunity to view the apparent settlement and coexistence agreement?

Had Adidas not opposed, or had Lululemon been able to defend the opposition, perhaps Lulu would be in a stronger position to do something about these Reef shoes that I initially mistook for an extension of the Lululemon brand (until spending more time handling them):

What do you think, do you suppose Reef shoes felt more comfortable adopting the three stitch device on shoes because Lulu has no non-traditional trademark registration and would have to establish non-functionality and common law rights to enforce, or perhaps, because Lulu has apparently stopped selling footwear and shoes?

Do you suppose that Reef shoes has focused on the registration of other non-traditional marks and refrained from seeking federal registration of its three stitch design because it doesn’t want to hear from Adidas?

Is it fair to say that the Adidas’ stripes, bands, and quadrilaterals don’t cast a shadow on stitches, at least when it comes to use, as opposed to registration?

Hello, B&B Hardware, and what do you have to say for yourself?

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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