Adidas and Puma share a long and entangled history. In the late 1940s, the two companies were started by German brothers Adolf (Adi) Dassler and Rudolph Dassler after a family feud led the brothers to part ways. Adidas was registered on August 18, 1949 by Adi, following a family feud at the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik company between him and his older brother Rudolf. Rudolf established Puma before Adi established Adidas. The companies quickly became business rivals. To this day, the companies are still headquartered in the same German city of Herzogenaurach and continue as rivals. This familiar history is behind Adidas assertion in a recently filed a trademark infringement suit against Puma that the alleged trademark infringement shouldn’t be seen as innocent.
Adidas complaint for infringement against Puma relates to Puma’s sale of soccer cleats with 4 stripes. Adidas has been vigilant about protecting its three stripe logo and trademark. Its trademark attorneys have recently gone after Marc Jacobs, Forever 21, and Skechers, making sure there is no dilution of its signature three stripe design. These same attorneys didn’t hesitate to go after Adi’s brother’s company Puma when Puma began selling a soccer cleat with four diagonal stripes aligned similarly to Adidas’ three stripe design.
Adidas claims that with a four stripe design there is a strong likelihood of consumer confusion and that Puma is looking to trade off of Adidas’ built up “goodwill and commercial magnetism” by using a similar look. Puma hasn’t yet responded but will probably focus its defense on the issue of likelihood of confusion. Unfortunately for Puma, there is some precedent that Adidas can rely on to support its contention that use of four stripes by Puma can create a likelihood of confusion among consumers with Adidas three stripe mark.
In 2008, Adidas won a $305 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Payless Shoe Source for using two and four parallel stripe designs on its shoes. Puma will want to distinguish how its uses four stripes from the way the infringing four stripes were used by defendants in the Payless Shoe case. Puma may argue that Adidas’ scope of protection for its three diagonal stripes should be narrow. How far does Adidas’ trademark protection actually go? This is a fact intensive inquiry based on a number of factors. Of course, ultimately it will probably come down to whether a jury believes there will be a likelihood of confusion between the marks among consumers.
With the strength of Adidas’ brand equity in its three-stripe design, it may have an advantage as Adidas has already proven against stripes numbering two through four. This, coupled with the intimate relationship between Adidas and Puma seems to make this a tough case for Puma to win. Considering the intense competition between the companies and the market at stake, it will be interesting to see whether Puma backs down or brings a fight.