$100 million per stripe, please

“Horizontal stripes are for prison,” said “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” star Tim Gunn.  And while the sports apparel company Adidas can’t make its competitors join the chain gang, it has started a few court battles with giant retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart over their potential infringement of Adidas’ “Three Stripe Mark” on a variety of sneakers.  Adidas is jazzed over its recent $64.4 million trademark infringement award (down from $300 million plus jury verdict) against Payless ShoeSource for infringing Adidas’ trademark and is looking at other retailers of discount brand striped-shoes.

The Payless dispute concerned approximately 290 Payless shoe designs that included either two or four parallel stripes in the same spots where Adidas places its trademarked stripes (you can see all of the designs the jury thought infringed here).  The jury agreed with Adidas’ reasoning that Payless infringed on its three stripe trademark because there was a likelihood that consumers would be confused by the parallel lines and mistakenly believe that Adidas was the source of those shoes.  It probably didn’t help that Payless “designed” the shoes by purchasing various Adidas shoes, sending them to its manufacturers in China, and directing them to remake the shoes with either two or four stripes.

Adidas has been more aggressive than a Black Friday shopper while litigating trademark infringement cases over the past few years, and although it is the second largest sporting goods retailer behind Nike it’s taking a stand as the number one shoe diva of the shoe industry.

In the present litigation with Target, Adidas is taking the company to task over its multiple-stripe designs. According to the complaint there have been three prior settlement agreements between Adidas and Target – all regarding past allegations that various shoes and apparel offered by Target have infringed Adidas’ trademarks.  Who knew stripes could be so controversial?

Whatever the case, people clearly like stripes, all sorts of stripes: squiggly stripes, parallel stripes and even spinning stripes.  Maybe Target will settle out of court again and join the company of Steve Madden Ltd., Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., Target Corp., Nordstrom Inc. Wal-Mart, and Kmart.

Adidas may not get beyond four stripes since K-Swiss has been legally using a five-stripe design on its shoes since 1966.  Will a shoe with four stripes confuse the consumer as to Adidas’ three stripes or K-Swiss’ five stripes?  Either way, Tim Gunn reminds us to keep those stripes below the waist.

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