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Thom Browne Wins Stripes Trademark Case Against Adidas

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“Adidas does not own stripes,” Thom Browne’s attorney told the jury.

Designer Thom Browne poses for a portrait before the Thom Browne Womenswear SpringSummer 2023 show as part of Paris...

The designer Thom Browne, ahead of his namesake brand’s spring 2023 show during Paris Fashion Week on October 3, 2022.Richard Bord/Getty Images

“Back to business,” the Thom Browne Instagram account posted on Friday, a day after a New York jury sided with the label in a trademark infringement suit filed by the sportswear megabrand Adidas. The caption accompanied a photo carousel of close-ups from the Thom Browne menswear show in Paris last summer: a slew of models’ pelvises adorned with red, white, and blue striped jockstraps. 

The verdict comes after a nine-day trial to decide the trademark claim Adidas brought against the American luxury label in 2021, claiming that the similarities between Browne’s parallel stripes motif and Adidas’s three-stripe trademark may confuse or mislead customers. (Thom Browne’s stripes have appeared, at various points in the brand’s history, in sets of two and three, but most often four.) Adidas sought nearly $8 million in damages and losses; per WWD, that sum includes $867,225, which is the amount the companies agree Adidas would have received in licensing fees from Thom Browne Inc., had the two companies worked together, plus $7,011,961 million that Adidas alleges the label made in profits from selling striped apparel and footwear. 

Browne, in shorts, arriving at Manhattan Federal Court on January 3.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The trial began last Tuesday at the United States District Court in Manhattan, which opened with another cheeky display from Browne: the designer appeared in court wearing his signature shorts suit, which conspicuously exhibited a pair of knee-high, four-bar-striped socks. According to WWD, Thom Browne’s attorney, Robert T. Maldonado, began his closing argument on Thursday by saying: “Adidas does not own stripes.” After less than three hours of deliberation, the jury found Thom Browne Inc. not liable for damages or profits made from the sale of products featuring the four-bar design, as well as its hallmark red-white-and-blue grosgrain ribbon motif. 

When the verdict was announced, WWD reported that “the entire right side of the courtroom was filled with members of his team, all sporting head-to-toe looks from the collection.” 

According to Vogue Business, during his testimony on January 9, Browne spoke about his lifelong love of sports and sportswear—he swam competitively at Notre Dame, where he staged a football-themed capsule presentation last fall—and later recalled a 2007 phone call with Adidas’s then-CEO about Browne’s previous “Three-Bar Signature” branding, when he agreed to stop using the motif. “The last thing I wanted to do was get into a fight with a big company like Adidas,” the designer testified. 

(Last week, local court reporter Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, which covers happenings in Manhattan’s Southern District Court, shared a courtroom sketch from the trial: the image, illustrated by Elizabeth Williams, shows Browne in his shorts suit, seated in front of a computer screen displaying an image of Adidas-brand track shorts. Accompanying the sketch, Lee wrote: “Meanwhile the SDNY courthouse marvels at the disproportionate interest in this case, while defendants are being sentenced to twenty or thirty years in other, more empty courtroom.”)

“It was important to fight and tell my story,” Browne told The Associated Press, leaving the courthouse after the verdict. “And I think it’s more important and bigger than me, because I think I was fighting for every designer that creates something and has a bigger company come after them later.”

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