Once upon a time there was an Adidas t-shirt that has become almost a cult item over the years. “99 problems but my 3 stripes ain’t one” read in large letters: “99 problems, but my three stripes aren’t one of them”. But now the sporting goods company from Herzogenaurach has a problem with its striped logo. The characteristic three parallel stripes have been around since 1952, are protected as a trademark and can be found on many Adidas products, on t-shirts, jackets and shoes. As a rule, Adidas takes vigorous action against them if they are misused elsewhere.
But now the Germans have made a spectacular retreat. The background: The Black Lives Matter Foundation, which campaigns massively against racism, wants to register three stripes as a trademark for clothing or shoes with the US Trademark Office. It’s about three parallel yellow stripes under the slogan Black Lives Matter – at first glance quite similar to the Adidas stripes. The sporting goods manufacturer initially saw an acute risk of confusion and had therefore lodged an objection – but only wanted to collect it again two days later. “We are already in the process of withdrawing the opposition to the Black Lives Matter Foundation’s trademark application,” says a spokeswoman. She does not want to comment on the exact reasons.
Apparently, Adidas is concerned that the objection could be understood as criticism of the goals of Black Lives Matter – and could trigger another shitstorm in the USA. Racism is a sensitive topic for Adidas, especially in the USA, one of the most important markets. In 2020, the then head of HR Karen Parkin was replaced after criticism of her handling of the issue. Employees had complained about Parkin after she was said to have dismissed racism as “noise” at an internal event of the then US subsidiary Reebok, which is only debated in America. The Germans only parted ways with US rapper and Adidas business partner Kanye West last October because he repeatedly attracted attention with anti-Semitic and racist statements. Adidas’ image is already suffering.
Black Lives Matter was founded ten years ago to protest brutal police violence against black people. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is the best-known part of the anti-racism movement. She registered the logo in November 2020 to use it on things like magazines, clothing, bags and coffee mugs.
Adidas is constantly fighting against alleged abuse of its rights to the three stripes. Since 2008 alone, the company has been loud Reuters filed more than 90 lawsuits and settled out of court more than 200 times. In January, however, the sporting goods company lost a legal dispute with the New York designer Thom Browne. The luxury fashion brand has used four parallel stripes as a distinctive mark on shirts, trousers and shoes for 15 years. Before it was three, after an initial lawsuit by Adidas, Thom Browne added a fourth stripe.