After Adidas loses its fight to own three stripes, how can you protect your brand?

Adidas has lost the right to claim the use of three parallel lines as its own after it was ruled not “distinctive” enough.

Since buying the branding from Finnish sports company Karhu in 1952, the “three stripes” mark has become synonymous with the brand.

Earlier this month, however, the General Court of the European Union ruled that Adidas would be unable to have it trademark protected.

The global brand had attempted to regain “three parallel stripes” of “identical width” and equal distance from each other, which appear in “any direction” as its trademark, but was denied on the grounds that the mark was not “distinctive” enough.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) had granted Adidas the three-stripes trademark across all EU countries in 2014 but annulled the registration in 2016 stating that it “should not have been registered” in the first place because it was “devoid of any distinctive character.”

While the Adidas case is surprising, its not an isolated one. Heineken has also faced challenges in trademarking its red star, not only in the case of trademark conflict but because of the red star’s historic association with communism.

Despite its use by Heineken since the 1880s, the company may no longer be allowed to use the red star alone without it being sat alongside the brand name ‘Heineken’ in the future.

A logo is a corporate identity, vital in ensuring your brand is unique, distinguishable and stands apart.

It’s a powerful marketing tool (think Coca-Cola) and undoubtedly worthwhile getting its registration and protection right.

So what can trademark owners do to protect themselves from identity theft and abuse?

How can brands protect their identity?

Create a unique logo

It can be a symbol, an image, a shape and even a word, as long as that word in itself is not immediately descriptive. For a phone brand, Orange works as does an apple icon. The word ‘telephone’ does not.

Add your brand name to that logo

Trademarks are more easily approved for registration, in our experience, if the brand name is embossed or connected. Symbols alone are more usually open to challenge, exactly like Adidas’ three stripes. Adidas can use the stripes with the name Adidas or with their other registered symbols, but the stripes alone are no longer protected by copyright.

Make sure your logo is distinctive

Heineken has a red star, as does fashion brand Macy’s and sports brand Converse has, in notable cases, replaced its blue star with red. However, in each logo the typeface and colour scheme renders them distinctive enough to avoid confusion.

Apply for the trademark asap

This can be done using the services of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK and internationally through the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO). On these sites you can check no one has a similar mark in a related category. The process is straightforward, and while it can be expensive for a worldwide audience, remember it is brand protection – it has balance sheet value for your business. Remember to choose your appropriate categories, or ‘classes’, for registration, which are listed by the WIPO — there are many overlapping categories, and brands should register in as many as appropriate.

Register your brand name in multiple places

This will give your company double and triple protection — so as well as registering the logo, register the company name and buy the online domain (the website url) of the same name.

Use it or lose it

And finally, the old adage of “use it or lose it” applies to trademarks. Lack of use can cause a lapse of the mark itself and absolutely exposes it to challenge by a new registrant.