Adidas triumphs over 3-stripe trademark battle

After six years of prolonged dispute, Adidas AG could achieve a victory over trademark battle involving famous 3-stripe design. In a recent trademark invalidation appeal, case no. 2016-890047, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Adidas AG to retroactively null trademark registration no. 5430912 for three lines device mark (see below) due to a likelihood of confusion with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design.

Disputed mark

Disputed mark was filed on March 2, 2011 by a Japanese business entity, designating shoes in class 25 and registered on August 5, 2011 (Registration no. 5430912).

To oppose the registration, on October 18, 2011, Adidas AG filed an opposition against disputed mark based on Article 43bis of the Trademark. But the Opposition Board of JPO overruled the opposition and decided to admit registration of disputed mark on June 27, 2012. Four years later, Adidas AG filed an invalidation appeal with an attempt to retroactively null disputed mark based on Article 4(1)(xv), 46(1)(i) of the Trademark Law.

The Japan Trademark Law provides where a trademark has been registered for five years or more, an invalidation appeal based on Article 4(1)(xv) shall be dismissed unless the trademark was aimed for registration with a fraudulent purpose.

It is presumed that the provision urged Adidas to take an invalidation action eventually since the appeal date is just one week before a lapse of five years from registration.

 

Invalidation trial

Adidas AG repeatedly argued a likelihood of confusion between Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design and disputed mark because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of 3-stripe design as a source indicator of Adidas sportswear and sports shoes, visual resemblance between the marks.

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. Adidas’ 3-stripe design has acquired a substantial degree of reputation well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1971.
  2. Occasionally, Adidas promotes shoes depicting various types of 3-stripe design with a slight modification to length, width, angle, outline or color of the stripe.
  3. Disputed mark gives rise to the same visual impression in the mind of consumers with 3-stripe design by taking account of similar graphical representation consisting of three lines in parallel leaning to the left. Difference in detail is negligible since it can be perceived as a variation of Adidas shoes given actual business circumstances.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that relevant consumers and traders are likely to confuse shoes using disputed mark with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Adidas AG. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.

Adidas successful in invalidating three bones device mark

In a trademark invalidation appeal, case no. 2017-890017, the Trial Board of Japan Patent Office (JPO) decided in favor of Adidas AG to retroactively null trademark registration no. 5799460 for three bones device mark (see below) due to a likelihood of confusion with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design.

Disputed mark

Disputed mark was filed on May 1, 2015 by a Japanese business entity, designating the goods of clothing for pets in class 18 and registered on October 16, 2015.

Subsequently after the registration, Adidas AG filed an opposition against disputed mark on November 26, 2015. Since it ended in vain, Adidas AG challenged inadequacy of the decision and registration by means of invalidation trial.

Invalidation trial

During the invalidation trial, Adidas AG argued a likelihood of confusion between Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design and disputed mark because of a high degree of popularity and reputation of 3-stripe design as a source indicator of Adidas sportswear and sports shoes, visual resemblance between the marks, and close relatedness of its consumers and commodity goods.

Board decision

The Board found that:

  1. Adidas’ 3-stripe design has acquired a substantial degree of reputation well before the filing date of disputed mark as a result of continuous marketing activities in Japan since 1971.
  2. Three bones device mark visually resembles with 3-stripe design by taking account of the same graphical representations allocating three trapezoids in different length in parallel to be seen it constituting a triangle in overall appearance.
  3. It becomes apparent that distributors of sports gears, apparels, bags, and shoes also deal with clothing for pets nowadays.

Based on the above findings, the Board concluded that consumers who are accustomed to the circumstance, are likely to confuse clothing for pets using disputed mark with Adidas’ famous 3-stripe design or misconceive a source from any entity systematically or economically connected with Adidas AG. Thus, disputed mark shall be invalidated in violation of Article 4(1)(xv) of the Trademark Law.


It should be noteworthy that a decision to dismiss opposition is not appealable under the Japan Trademark Law. If opposed party wants to argue the decision, there is no way other than invalidation trial.

Masaki MIKAMI, Attorney at IP Law – Founder of MARKS IP LAW FIRM