Has the European Union General Courts failed the intellectual property system again?
There isn’t one person in the world that doesn’t recognize the famous three stripe logo as being the universal brand of the shoe titan company, Adidas. Adidas originally founded in 1949, in Germany, has become a multinational corporation that designs, manufactures shoes, clothing and accessories. Additionally, Adidas has largely become the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after Nike. Adidas by all intent and purposes is virtually recognizable by almost every person, of every age, regardless of whether you are a collector of shoes, or not.
However, a European Union General Court upheld a decision finding the brand’s three-stripe trademark as invalid. The German athletic giant had tried to widen its trademark protection for “three parallel equidistant stripes of equal width applied to the product in whichever direction” for use in clothing, footwear and headgear, but has been met with opposition. After the company registered the trademark in 2014, it was challenged by Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe, and in 2016, the European Union Intellectual Property Office ruled against Adidas, finding the mark lacked distinctiveness throughout the EU.
The battle initially stared from an earlier legal batter in which Adidas successfully opposed Shoe Branding Europe’s two-stripe trademark for its sneaks and sportswear. In that case, the court found that Shoe Branding’s stripes were confusingly similar to Adidas’ two-stripe trademark, and blocked the registration.
I find this quite odd seeing how Adidas has multiple trademark registrations throughout the EU, and the public world-wide recognizance of the mark as being that of Adidas, seems to complete defeat the whole purpose in a trademark. Trademarks were developed in order to protect companies that have developed a public recognizance with consumers, with who which they have identified with and subsequently developed a consistent flow of revenue. It has long been known that knock-off companies will create a similar product, by mimicking a publicly recognized product, in order to take a bite out of the revenue of the well-known company by offering a much cheaper, yet confusing product in the marketplace.
Trademark protection, was developed in order to protect business owners from pirates and knock-off product makers, however, the EU General Court seems to have set an unfortunate precedent, with their ruling. As U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez stated, ““The commercial and conceptual strengths of the three-stripe mark are undeniable. The mark is ubiquitous across Adidas’ various products, and it has very strong global recognition, evidenced by billions of dollars of sales of products bearing the mark.” In my opinion, the EU courts created a major error here, as their not allowing Adidas to claim the stripes for which they are well known for, opens the doors for all copycats and rivals to steal their designs. For most major companies, this is an alarming trend as the EU courts have been known for creating a legal trend that takes aim at major companies, and limiting the scope of how well they can protect their branding. This case carries quite the resemblance to the McDonalds’s case that coincidentally took place in the European Union.
International court blunders such as this, creates more of a concern as world-wide pirating, patent trolls, and brand copycats, are given more preferential treatment, and the countries that benefit from these companies’ success and directly benefit from economic upturn, fail to provide proper intellectual property protection. It is the hope of many companies, of all sizes, who have international exposure, for the more intellectual property innovative countries to join together as one voice, and create a more synchronous intellectual property system. In short, this is a game changer for all companies that have international aspirations, or already have an international presence, and will be a topic of conversation for years to come.