Adidas defeated in 3-stripe trademark dispute

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) held in an opposition filed by Adidas AG that trademark registration no. 6085087 for horizontal three-stripes (Opposed mark) shall remain as valid as ever and entirely dismissed Adidas’ claims based on its famous three stripes.
[Opposition case no. 2018-900382, Gazette issued on February 28, 2020]


Opposed mark (see below) was applied for registration on October 10, 2017 over clothing, headwear, footwear in class 25, advertisement and promotion of music festival, concert in class 35, arrangement and conducting of musical performances, music festival, concerts in class 41 by Ultra Enterprises Inc., a U.S. business entity organizing outdoor electronic music event “ULTRA MUSIC FESTIVAL (UML)”, and published for registration on October 23, 2018.

Apparently, opposed mark is used as a symbolic logo for Ultra Music Festival’s RESISTANCE set.

Opposition by Adidas

On December 21, 2018, Adidas AG filed an opposition and argued opposed mark is revocable under Article 4(1)(vii) and 4(1)(xv) of the Japan Trademark Law in relation to its famous three stripes (see below).

Article 4(1)(vii)

Article 4(1)(vii) prohibits any mark likely to offend public order and morals from registering.

Based on a remarkable degree of reputation and popularity to Adidas three stripes, opponent asserted, applicant must have been aware of Adidas three stripes and filed opposed mark with a malicious intention to take advantage of the reputation and credit of opponent’s famous trademark and impair the goodwill embodied on its iconic three stripes.

Article 4(1)(xv)

Article 4(1)(xv) prohibits to register a trademark which is likely to cause confusion with a business of other entity.

Adidas argued that, from appearance and concept, opposed mark evidently gives rise to a same impression with Adidas three stripes since each stripe of the mark is depicted in the same direction, width and shape, besides a space between stripe also has the same width with the stripe.

Average consumers with an ordinary care of goods/services in question who have been quite familiar with Adidas are likely to associate opposed mark with Adidas’ three-stripes. Inter alia, when opposed mark is used on apparels with a smaller configuration printed in one spot, so-called ‘one-point mark’, it must be difficult for relevant consumers to distinguish opposed mark with Adidas three-stripes because of its resemblance. Besides, goods/services in question are closely related to opponent business, namely sportswear, sports shoes, sports events. If so, it is highly anticipated that relevant consumers would confuse a source of opposed mark with opponent.

JPO Decision

The Opposition Board admitted a high degree of reputation and popularity to Adidas three stripes in relation to sport shoes, sportswear, sports gear at the time of initial filing and registration of opposed mark.

In the meantime, the Board found a low degree of originality of three stripes and similarity between the marks, from visual, phonetic, and conceptual points of view. The Board stated opposed mark can be perceived as ‘three-stripes’ deployed inside a vertically long rectangle. On the other hand, opponent’s marks consist of ‘three-stripes’ deployed inside a triangle or parallelogram. Even if Adidas three stripes have acquired remarkable reputation, because of a low degree of similarity and the originality, relevant consumers at the sight of opposed mark would not hesitate to consider a source of opposed mark unrelated to Adidas.
Thus, the Board held it is unlikely that relevant consumers confuse or associate opposed mark with Adidas.

The Board also negated opponent’s allegation of ‘one-point mark’ theory by stating that even if average consumers have tendency to pay less attention to details of a mark when used on apparels with smaller configuration, due to dissimilar impression caused by a different outline (vertically long rectangle, triangle, and parallelogram) of respective mark, opposed mark shall be undoubtedly perceived as a distinctive three-stripes unrelated to Adidas by relevant consumers with an ordinary care.

Besides, from the produced evidences, the Board found it was not foreseen a circumstance to offend public order and morals from registering opposed mark and give harmful effect to the international faith.

Based on the foregoing, the Board concluded opposed mark shall be irrevocable under Article 4(1)(vii) as well as (xv) and granted registration a status quo.

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