OLG Düsseldorf: Victory for Nike in trademark dispute with Adidas over stripe design

In a landmark ruling, the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (OLG) has decided that not every side stripe pattern on sports shorts infringes Adidas' trademark rights. Nike has thus achieved a major partial success in appeal proceedings.

Adidas has been fighting for years for exclusivity of the three-stripe brand

Adidas has been known for decades for its iconic three stripes, which are mainly found on sports shoes and sportswear. For several years, they have therefore been fighting against every sports shoe and every item of clothing that even comes close to the brand with the stripes. Even sporting goods with two stripes are often warned off.

OLG Düsseldorf Nike Adidas Three Stripes Trademark Law

The company saw its trademark rights infringed by five pairs of sports pants sold by Nike, which also had stripes on the sides. The Düsseldorf Regional Court then prohibited Nike from selling these pants in Germany.

OLG Düsseldorf: Stripes are not all the same

The 20th Civil Senate of the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf partially overturned the judgment of the Regional Court. It was confirmed that one of the Nike pants infringed Adidas' trademark rights, as the three stripes were too similar to Adidas' three-stripe marking. However, the court saw no likelihood of confusion with the other four pairs of pants.

Two stripes are not reminiscent of Adidas - sometimes even three stripes are "okay"

The court emphasized that not every stripe pattern on the side is automatically associated with Adidas. The decisive factors are the specific design of the stripes, the other design of the item of clothing and the presence of other brand features. For example, the Nike logo was perceived as dominant on some pants, while the stripes appeared more as a decorative element.

In some cases, the court found that only two stripes were used, which was sufficiently distinguishable from three stripes. But even a three-stripe pattern was approved because the stripes were so close together that they were perceived as "decorative stitching" and not as a trademark. In addition, the Nike swoosh was so conspicuously placed that it clearly indicated the origin of the pants.

Effects for trademark owners

The ruling shows that although the protection of trademarks against imitation is important, not every similarity automatically constitutes an infringement. Trademark owners must prove that a Risk of confusion exists and the relevant public associates the sign at issue with its mark.

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