Adidas Is Suing Skechers for Knocking Off Its Most Popular Shoe Design

Since its introduction in the 1970s, adidas’s “Stan Smith” sneaker has become one of the most iconic shoe designs in history.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court of Portland, Oregon, this week, is part of what Adidas claims is a long history of conflicts over Skechers’s alleged infringement of the German company’s shoe trademarks.  According to court papers, “for nearly twenty years, Adidas has fended off Skechers’s repeated attempts to encroach on Adidas’s famous Three-Stripe Mark.” The dispute began in 1995, when Adidas noticed Sketchers was selling footwear designs bearing parallel stripes in a manner confusingly similar to Adidas’s Three-Stripe Mark, resulting in a lawsuit and a settlement in which Skechers acknowledged Adidas’s exclusive rights and agreed not to infringe them.” Yet despite this, the German footwear company state that, “in the past seven years, Skechers’s attempts to trade on Adidas’s goodwill have intensified, resulting in confidential settlement agreements in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013.”

Now, in the latest lawsuit Adidas is accusing Skechers of “selling footwear in clear violation of Adidas’s incontestable rights in and to its Stan Smith Trade Dress, Three-Stripe trademark and Supernova trademark." 

Readers may be aware that one of the essential purposes of trademark law is to protect consumers from confusion. Trade dress is a form of legal protection under trademark law that applies to famous marks and protects a products physical appearance or presentation of a product and thus extends to its design features. In order to achieve trade dress protection the goods in question must have achieved 'secondary meaning,' in other words be widely recognised by the public as coming from a particular source/company. Applying this concept here, Adidas seem to have a good case as it is likely that most of the purchasing public have come to associate the Stan Smith Trade Dress with adidas.

The Sneaker in question features a classic tennis-shoe profile with a sleek white leather upper, three rows of perforations in the pattern, a defined stitching across the sides of each shoe enclosing the perforations, a raised mustache-shaped colored heel patch, which often is green, and a flat tonal white rubber outsole (the “Stan Smith Trade Dress”) See below:

According to the court documents not only is Skechers producing a shoe that replicates “multiple elements of the Stan Smith Trade Dress," Skechers is doing so in "bad faith" with the intention to trade off of Adidas’ goodwill. The documents state that this "is further made clear by Skechers’ inclusion of 'Adidas,' 'Stan Smith' and 'Adidas original' in the source code for Skechers’s website,” the suit says. “Thus, searching for 'Adidas Stan Smith' or 'Adidas originals' on directs consumers to the Stan Smith knockoff.”

Commenting on the case an Adidas representative said in a statement that”

Adidas has filed the lawsuit ”against Skechers to protect its valuable intellectual property and put an end to a long-term pattern of unlawful conduct by Skechers to sell shoes that infringe Adidas’ rights. Adidas will not stand silently while Skechers copies the iconic Stan Smith shoe and uses terms like ‘adidas Originals’ and ‘Stan Smith’ as keywords on its website to divert customers looking for authentic adidas shoes. We believe Skechers’ unlawful behaviour, which also includes misappropriation of Adidas’ Supernova and Three-Stripe trademarks, needs to stop now.”

However, Skechers are not the only brand to be selling shoes that look similar to the Stan Smith design, luxury brands — including Saint Laurent, Common Projects and Isabel Marant have all been called out for selling shoes that are bear a marked similarity to the Stan Smith Design.

Earlier this year in an interview with Dezeen magazine, Adidas creative director Paul Gaudio voiced his dislike for copycat designs, saying that:

"We are definitely being knocked off around the globe and we don't appreciate it," he said. "When you are walking into a mall in Korea and you see a shoe that looks like yours but maybe has an extra stripe on it, I don't think that's something that anybody feels good about."

In the latest case, Adidas have asked the court for an preliminary injunction “restraining Skechers from manufacturing, distributing, advertising, selling, or offering for sale any footwear that is confusingly similar to Adidas’s Stan Smith Trade Dress.”

The case is Adidas America Inc. v. Skechers USA Inc. 3:15-cv-01741, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Portland). We’ll update you more as we hear.