Designer Thom Browne beats Adidas in court battle

Written by Larry Neumeister and Jocelyn Novick

January 13, 2023 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) – Smiling, fashion designer Thom Browne He emerged from a New York courthouse on Thursday defeating sportswear giant Adidas in a major battle over premium lines.

Brown told the Associated Press that he hopes preserving his striped designs on luxury sportswear and accessories will inspire others whose work is challenged by larger apparel producers.

“It was important for me to fight back and tell my story,” Brown told the Associated Press after a jury in Manhattan federal court sided with him. Adidas has claimed that the striped designs used by Thom Browne Inc. It was very similar to its three stripes.

“And I think it’s more important and bigger than me, because I think I’ve been fighting for every designer who makes something and has a bigger company that goes after him later,” he said.

Adidas indicated in a statement that their battle may continue.

“We are disappointed with the ruling and will continue to vigilantly enforce our intellectual property rights, including filing any appropriate appeals,” Rich Ephros, an Adidas spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Brown, a highly creative designer known for his stage shows, began selling clothing in 2001 in a boutique in Manhattan’s West Village. He has since enjoyed great success, especially after his 2018 deal with luxury brand Zegna. His company now appears in more than 300 locations around the world, including Tokyo, London, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Milan.

Adidas sued Brown in June 2021, saying his “signature quad” — along with other products featuring parallel stripes on sportswear including jerseys, sweatpants and hoodies — infringed its well-known trademark.

The two-week trial ended when the eight-person jury returned its verdict in less than two hours. Brown supporters in the courtroom erupted into joy before District Court Judge Jed Rakoff reprimanded them for violating courtroom etiquette. Later, supporters poured into the lobby, some celebrating with hugs and tears.

The dispute goes back 15 years. In 2007, Adidas complained that Brown was using a 3-Stripes design that was too similar to their design on a jacket. Brown agreed to stop using it and switch to a four-stripe design. For years, Adidas didn’t argue with that — but as Brown became more prominent after the 2018 sell-out, it started expanding more into activewear and the sportswear giant took notice.

Adidas argued in its lawsuit that Brown’s stripes could confuse customers. Brown, in turn, argued that the two companies are not direct competitors and do not serve the same market. A pair of women’s compression socks on Browne’s website costs $725, for example. A pair of Adidas leggings is well under $100 on that company’s website.

The landscape for brands is becoming more nuanced in a changing market as companies regularly expand into new categories — in both content and price — and collaborate on proprietary lines with others, said Jeff Trexler, faculty member of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. More and more companies are not staying in the lanes in which they started, whether it’s fashion or soft drinks, he said.

“It’s like a Ghostbusters movie where you know if you cross streams, everything will explode,” said Trexler.

As long as Brown laid the lines “on the man’s sport coat and his tight-fitting luxury goods, perhaps the occasional sweatpants,” Trexler said, there was no crossing of the schedule. But with his expansion into activewear, currents have crossed.

Brown himself testified during the trial, stating the importance of sports in his life and how it carried over into his career.

The former competitive swimmer said off court that he grew up playing tennis and that others in his extended family enjoyed basketball, baseball and soccer.

“So it’s very authentic to who I am as a person,” he said. “It’s something that inspires me every single day in relation to what I do.”

He said he counts many professional athletes among his friends and clients and considers them “a great inspiration”.

Trexler noted that Brown’s attorneys succeeded in convincing the jurors that Brown was an underdog.

After the verdict, he said, “In short, Tom Brown’s attorney has had the jury try this case as The People vs. The Corporation, and populism has won.”

Brown said he hopes it will be his last courtroom fight.

“I just want to design sets and I don’t ever want to be in a courtroom again,” he said.

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