This article was published on June 29, 2021, and updated on January 12, 2023
Thom Browne's signature striped branding sparked a $7 million+ lawsuit from adidas that went to court in 2023, first reported by The Fashion Law. In the suit, filed in mid-2021, adidas argued that Browne's stripes "imitates" its own inimitable Three Stripes logo, despite the two companies existing in pretty different markets.
Further, adidas claimed that, by continuing to use its four-bar branding, Thom Browne is swiping from the Three Stripes' "widespread fame and tremendous public recognition" and "extremely valuable goodwill" that adidas garnered from "millions of dollars" of public promotion (i.e. people wearing its clothing).
Thom Browne's offering has indeed expanded to include striped sportswear in recent years, while mainline fare has always incorporated at least some athleisure items, always replete with four horizontal bars.
Browne's sweatsuits and cardigans remain perennial best-sellers, for instance, and they make ample use of that striped branding.
Browne also deepened its partnership with F.C. Barcelona in recent years.
Though Nike currently sponsors the club, adidas-endorsed Messi was with Barcelona at the time that Browne began providing its players with off-pitch suiting.
Still, the lawsuit seems especially strange because adidas and Browne don't really read as competitors.
adidas' affordable hoodies, sweatpants, workout gear, and sneakers are all pretty distinct from Browne's luxurious shrunken suiting and couture-level statement pieces.
Representatives for both adidas and Thom Browne declined to comment to Highsnobiety on the ongoing case.
It's worth reiterating that adidas is famously litigious, perhaps even more so than Nike.
adidas has battled nearly every brand to even consider using a design that mildly recalls its Three Stripes, including Skechers and J. Crew, though adidas' legal capers haven't always been successful.
adidas also claims to have been "investigating" Browne's output since 2018, even opposing Browne's attempts to file European trademarks for its branding and engaging in "fruitless" negotiations with Browne over the stripes. In December 2020, adidas prevented Browne from successfully filing a similar trademark in America.
adidas' case against Thom Browne finally came to court in early 2023, with lawyers for each company convening in Manhattan's Southern District Court on January 3. Browne himself was in attendance.
The summation of adidas' case, according to the opening remarks, is that the German sportswear giant believes that Browne intentionally used adidas-adjacent branding to bring more attention to its sportswear line, leading to consumer confusion (though adidas acknowledges that it generally operates a different market to Browne).
In return, Browne's attorney referenced an agreement that Browne and adidas made in 2007 when Browne received adidas' blessing to continue using horizontal-striped branding after he added a fourth stripe to his logo.
According to Browne's representation adidas missed the boat on clashing with Browne when it cleared him to use his four-striped logo over a decade ago, emphatically underscoring that the two companies aren't competitors and, thus, adidas' lawsuit ought to be dismissed.
After a relatively swift trial, Thom Browne triumphed over adidas on January 12, with the jury finding that Browne's four-bar logo doesn't infringe adidas' trademark three stripes.
In return, he owes adidas zero damages. However, the door is open for adidas to appeal the decision should it choose to.