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Adidas gives up attempt to block Black Lives Matter trademark

March 29, 2023 Updated Wed., March 29, 2023 at 8:44 a.m.

Shrink-wrapped limited edition Adidas AG 'Yeezy' model trainers are displayed inside the Presented By sneaker resale store in London in August 2021.   (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)
Shrink-wrapped limited edition Adidas AG 'Yeezy' model trainers are displayed inside the Presented By sneaker resale store in London in August 2021.  (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg)
By Jennifer Hassan Washington Post

Adidas reversed an attempt to block a Black Lives Matter logo from being trademarked, just two days after asking U.S. authorities to reject the design.

“Adidas will withdraw its opposition to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation’s trademark application as soon as possible,” an emailed statement from the German company said Wednesday, though the sporting giant did not provide a reason for its decision.

In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which has described itself as a fundraising and grant-making entity of the Black Lives Matter movement, applied to trademark two designs for campaigning and fundraising purposes. One application was for a design the group has been using as its logo on its website, featuring the words “Black Lives Matter” above three yellow stripes. The second application was to trademark the three yellow stripe design, so it could be used for fundraising purposes on merchandise including mugs, clothing and bags.

Adidas had filed a notice of opposition against the second application on Monday, arguing that the foundation’s three-stripe design was “confusingly similar” to Adidas’s own “Three-Stripe Mark” and was likely to cause “confusion, deception, or mistake as to the affiliation” of the organization with Adidas. It then backpedaled on Wednesday.

It is quite unusual for a trademark case to be withdrawn so quickly, Phillip Johnson, a professor of commercial law at Cardiff University, said in an interview. “Most likely the decision to withdraw the case was for reputational management reasons rather than the merit of the case.”

The company attempt to block the Black Lives Matter foundation from trademarking its logo had attracted confusion and criticism on social media – as some accused the company of believing it had “the eternal rights on straight lines” while another joked: “Three stripes and you’re out, according to Adidas.”

Trademark experts had been divided on the strengths of Adidas’s initial case. “When you look at the difference in color and shape of the stripes, I think that Adidas is unlikely to win this case if it goes to trial,” trademark attorney Josh Gerben wrote on Twitter.

However, Johnson noted that the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation’s design of three parallel lines “could be argued to be very similar to the Adidas” registered trademark. “As most of Adidas’s use has been in relation [to] clothing it would be much more difficult for BLM to get the mark registered for clothing than it would for, say, charity fundraising or public awareness campaigning,” he added.

Adidas has been involved in several trademark disputes over the years about its three-stripe design, which was registered by founder Adi Dassler in 1949.

For more than a decade, Adidas tried to stop fashion designer Thom Browne from using stripes in his luxury designs, arguing that his striped designs are too similar to its own – even though his designs used a different number of stripes. During a New York trial in January, which Adidas lost, Browne’s lawyers argued that stripes are a common design.

Adidas has also lost trademark battles in European courts over its three-stripe design, with Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe in 2019 and with the Dutch company Fitnessworld in 2003.

Adidas has filed over 90 lawsuits and signed more than 200 settlement agreements related to the three-stripe trademark since 2008, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing court documents.

The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the globe since it was founded in 2013, with people all over the world taking to the streets to show solidarity with Black Americans in the face of police brutality and gun violence – but also to highlight racial injustice across Europe and in other countries.

The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation did not immediately return a request for comment early Wednesday.

Adidas has had a turbulent few months. In October, the company was forced to cut ties with rapper and fashion designer Kanye West over antisemitic remarks he made. Many criticized Adidas for being slower than other companies to sever its relationship with West, who now goes by Ye.

Earlier this month, Adidas warned that it could incur its first annual loss in decades amid the fallout over its now-defunct collaboration with the disgraced musician, a rupture that largely drove its $763 million fourth-quarter loss, the Washington Post reported.

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