For some reason, your question brings to mind an old advertising
slogan for Beechnut chewing gum:
Adidas' very first trademark registration in the US goes back to (go
ahead,guess!)...1957, and was for the phrase "ADIDAS THE MARK WITH THE
3 STRIPES". You can see the record for this now-expired trademark
online at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) site at:
So obvioiusly, Adidas has had a long-term involvement with its
three-stripe logo. (By the way, the Adidas name is usually printed by
the company with a lower-case "a", but I've capitalized it here for
the sake of convention).
Although the USPTO site is a tremendously useful resource for
trademark investigations, it's important to remember that trademark
protection is an international issue -- especially with a
globally-marketed brand such as Adidas. To get the best overview of
trademark registrations for a given brand name, I've found that the
most valuable resource is the World International Property
Organization (WIPO) website at:
You can search for trademark registrations at:
If you search here on the word [ adidas ] and select "trademarks" as
your database, you'll be taken to search results that include 152
Adidas registrations, including a great many for the visual "three
stripe" trademark (oddly, trademark registration #491373 is for a four
stripe design -- go figure!).
By the way, you can also search on [ three AND stripes ] to see other
companies that have registered 3-stripe designs for their products,
such as registration #803141 -- AQUA THERAPY BIKE. Repeat the search
for [ 3 AND stripes ] to see others three-stripe logos.
As you can see, Adidas has registered a wide-variety of three-stripe
images, including horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, skewed
stripes, wavy stripes, twisted stripes, curvey stripes, etc. In
general, the images seem have the quality you mentioned of being
"consistently proportionate in width to one another", although I
suspect one could make the argument that there are exceptions to this
That particular phrase, "consistently proportionate in width to one
another" seems to have arisen only in the context of the NCAA
brouhaha. I searched trademark and legal databases, as well as a
general Google search of the internet, but did not find that
particular language used for the Adidas logo anywhere other than the
NCAA guidelines that you linked to in your question.
However, there certainly have been legal challenges involving the
three-stripes design. The most well-know case is a fairly-recent
decision in Europe that is widely viewed as having "diluted" the
protections of the Adidas three-stripe design, as a similar-looking
two-stripe design was not deemed by the courts to infringe on Adidas.
Details about this case are included in the article excerpts, below.
The face-off between Adidas and the NCAA did not involve trademarks,
per se. Instead, Adidas was arguing that NCAA was involved in
antitrust actions by restricting how visibly Adidas could present its
logo on athletes clothing. As you have noted, however, the outcome of
the case did lead to the establishment of guidelines that provide a
verbal description of what the Adidas three-stripe logo entails.
The outcome of the NCAA case strikes me as the most detailed available
verbal description of the of the Adidas three-stripe design. The
trademark registrations seem to rely largely on the images themselves
to convey the nature of the Adidas logos.
I've posted below excerpts from several articles about these cases.
Beyond these two, however, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of
legal activity involving decisions regarding Adidas' three-stripe
design. Instead, it seems that Adidas has threatened or initiated
suit in a number of cases, and the threat alone has been enough for
the parties to reach resolution without the lawsuits going forward.
(The three-stripe fish ads are a bit of an exception to the threat
alone leading to a resolution...see article excerpt, below).
Broward Daily Business Review
October 24, 2003
Legal Briefs: Three-stripe Adidas can't sue two-stripe firm
Adidas-Salomon, the world's No. 2 sporting-goods maker, can't claim
that Dutch competitor Fitnessworld Trading violated its trademark
rights, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday...
Adidas, whose products have a three-stripe mark, claimed that
Fitnessworld's use of a double-stripe motif infringed its trademark
rights. The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice said that "a similar
sign viewed purely as a decorative motif" didn't constitute a
...Adidas-Salomon...has sued several rivals and retailers, such as
Target and Payless ShoeSource, for infringement. In September, the
company settled lawsuits it filed over U.S.-based rival Steven Madden
Ltd.'s use of stripes on casual shoes, according to court records. The
terms were confidential...
International Law Update
...In another case...the ECJ holds that a proprietor of a trade mark
with a reputation cannot prevent the use of a similar sign that is
used purely as a decorative element. Sports accessory manufacturer
Adidas uses a motif of three vertical stripes on its products.
Fitnessworld, a sports clothing manufacturer, uses a similar motif
consisting of two vertical stripes as a decorative element of its
clothing. Adidas challenged Fitnessworld's use of the two stripes in a
court in The Netherlands. When the case reached the Dutch Supreme
Court, it was referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the EU
directive on trademarks... The ECJ holds that trademark infringement
occurs when the relevant section of the public establishes a link
between the sign at issue and the registered trade mark even though it
does not confuse them. However, where the relevant section of the
public regards the sign purely as an embellishment, the proprietor of
the mark cannot prevent the use of that embellishment by a third
The actual text of the EU case involving Adidas can be found here:
The Legal Intelligencer
November 19, 1998
Adidas-Salomon AG, the world's No. 2 maker of sporting goods, sued
rival Shragz Sportswear Inc. for trademark infringement, saying the
company used Adidas' three-stripe logo on its clothing.
In a suit filed Oct. 29 in U.S. District Court in
Brooklyn...Adidas-Salomon and U.S. unit Adidas-America Inc. claim New
York-based Shragz illegally used the three-stripe logo on its shorts
and pants. Shragz, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in
New York in January, is accused of violating laws on trademark
counterfeiting, unfair competition and deceptive trade practices,
according to the suit. "In recent years, annual sales of [Adidas']
products bearing the three-stripe mark have totaled in the billions of
dollars globally," and Shragz's action "is causing irreparable harm
[to Adidas'] reputation for quality," the suit said. It asks a judge
to stop Shragz's infringement, hand over all "knockoff" merchandise
and pay unspecified damages...
[Note from pafalafa-ga: I looked, but did not see an actual outcome
of this case. It could be the case did not go forward].
The National Law Journal
April 24, 1989
Fishy Ad Is Stepped On
AFTER designer Rick Tharp and assistant designer Kim Tomlinson had
created an ad for Steamer's seafood restaurant of Los Gatos, Calif.,
Mr. Tharp made a slightly unusual suggestion. He felt the ad, which
featured three fish in a design that bore more than a passing
resemblance to the distinctive adidas logo, might prove
thought-provoking if placed in the sports sections of the local
...The ad provoked more than thought. Five days after it appeared, Mr.
Tharp...received a letter from the legal department of adidas. While
conceding the "cleverness" of Mr. Tharp's design, the letter
nevertheless claimed the "'fish ad' variation of [adidas'] trefoil
device logo" constituted trademark infringement and demanded the ad be
Mr. Tharp responded by producing a second adidas-inspired
design..."Although this new concept is extremely creative," wrote back
adidas, "the presence of the three stripes along the side of the
fish/shoe still would tend to confuse the public into perceiving a
connection between adidas and Steamer's."
Undaunted, Mr. Tharp forged ahead with concept No. 3... the same fishy
footwear -- splashed this time with a well-known wave design element.
So far, no word from Nike...
[another write-up on the European three-stripe case]
Hastings International and Comparative Law Review
Protection Against Trademark Dilution in the U.K. and Canada:
Inexorable Trend or Will Tradition Triumph?
...Another case recently decided by the ECJ espoused a further
argument seeking to import the "calling to mind" concept into the
confusion section of the Directive. In Marca Mode CV v. Adidas
AG...Adidas, which has a trademark "consisting of a logo composed of
three stripes,"...challenged...Marca Mode's right to sell clothing
emblazoned with two or three parallel stripes...
...the ECJ clearly rejected Adidas' argument, and reiterated that,
even with regard to very distinctive marks, "likelihood of confusion
cannot be presumed."...Thus, the ECJ again firmly rejected an attempt
to circumvent the "likelihood of confusion" requirement in the
Directive and substitute a form of protection that does not require
confusion, at least where the goods in question are "similar."
Adidas- Salomon AG and Adidas Benelux BV v. Fitnessworld Trading Ltd
Adidas is the famous three stripe sports brand that is sold
internationally...The triple-stripe logo is a one of the most
successful brands in the world and enjoys recognition at an
Fitnessworld Trading Ltd (?Fitnessworld?) also markets sports clothing
under its mark Perfetto and imports merchandise for Perfetto Sportwear
Inc. Various articles sported a two stripe pattern in a similar design
to that of Adidas. The stripes run parallel, are of equal width, and
are in contrast with the main colour applied to the seam of the
articles of clothing.
...In August 1998 the Court of Appeal set aside the judgment and
dismissed Adidas?s claims. It concluded that the relevant section of
the public at which Adidas aims its products consists above all of
people who wish to be seen in exclusive and more expensive branded
clothing. That section of the public is well aware that Adidas is
distinguished by the triple-stripe motif and will therefore not become
confused if it sees articles of clothing with two stripes, such as the
sports and leisure clothing sold by Fitnessworld, even if the two
stripes are applied to the clothing in the same manner as the three
stripes of Adidas.
It refused to allow Adidas to claim a monopoly over the stripe motif.
[and a bit on the NCAA case]
Ohio State Law Journal
Monopoly and Other Children's Games: NCAA's Antitrust Suit Woes
Threaten Its Existence
...two sports equipment manufacturers-Easton and Adidas- filed their
own federal antitrust suits against the NCAA in 1998. Easton, a
baseball bat manufacturer, is challenging aluminum bat specifications
set to become effective in spring 2000...The Adidas suit challenges an
NCAA rule that limits corporate logos on team uniforms to a size no
greater than 2.25 square inches...Twenty years ago, the NCAA may have
viewed these lawsuits as publicity stunts posing little threat to the
organization or its bank accounts. However...the NCAA can no longer
afford to take antitrust suits lightly...
...Adidas claims its corporate logo will not fit into so small a
space, and that the rule, therefore, is an unlawful restraint of trade
in violation of the Sherman Act...
I hope this answer fully provides the information you need.
Before rating this answer, please let me know if you need any
additional explanation or information. Just post a Request for
Clarification, and I'll be happy to assist you further.
In addition to the trademark databases noted, I also searched Google
and Lexis for information on cases with the terms [ Adidas stripes ]
as well as searches on the phrase [ "consistently proportionate in
width to one another" ].
Clarification of Answer by
15 Jun 2004 07:09 PDT
I'm glad to provide some additional information on your question, but
before I do, a bit of perspective is in order.
The EU case I cited earlier -- where Adidas claimed FitnessWorld was
infringing on their trademark -- went through local courts in the
Netherlands, then to the Dutch Supreme Court, and then to the European
Court of Justice before being finally decided. The case was brought
forward in 1998, I think, and wasn't resolved until 2002.
My point is -- these issues don't often have clear-cut or speedy
resolutions. If you really want to push the issue with Adidas, be
prepared for the long haul. Having said that, however, it sure looks
to me like Adidas is full of hooey in this particular case.
Adidas is so strongly identified with the three-stripe design, and has
so many variations on this design, and has spent so many millions of
dollars reinforcing the connection between three-stripes and Adidas in
the consumer's mind, that for them to claim a three-stripe motif on an
Adidas piece of sports clothing is merely an adornment rather than a
trademark or logo is -- as I said -- a whole lot of hooey.
However...and this is crucially important -- I am not a legal
professional, and my opinion should not be seen as legal advice. Nor
do I know one iota about fencing rules (well...I know just a bit, now
that I've looked at your links). So please, take this all with the
appropriate number of grains of salt.
If you go back to the WIPO site and conduct a trademarks search for
Adidas, you'll find one of their trademarks is for a "Sports Jersey".
It is item #414036.
The jersey bears three stripes down the sleeve, much like the fencing
clothing you linked to, except for the addition of a diamond on the
fencing clothing. Click on this item, and it will take you to an
expanded record, which includes the following description:
"The three stripes are of the same color contrasting with the color of
the garment, they are equidistant, parallel, separated by two
intervals; they are arranged vertically and symmetrically on each side
of the garment."
To my mind, this comes quite close to describing the pattern on the
fencing clothing as well. You can certainly make the case that the
stripes on the fencing clothing are, indeed, a trademarked pattern as
represented by item #414036.
Beyond that, I'm not sure what additional information I can add.
However, feel free to get back to me if you have any trouble finding
#414036, or if you have any additional questions on all this.
Best of luck...
-- but that's my personal opinion as a non-legal researcher, so don't