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Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Big Logos at the Big W

Wimbledon began Monday in typical fashion: with rain delays and warnings that players must adhere to strict dress codes. Strict dress codes will probably disappoint you Maria Sharapova fans. For his part, World No. 1 Roger Federer has been taking the court in a Nike-designed cream blazer.

Underneath it all, Nike and Adidas are waging a legal battle over permissible logos. Tennis' governing bodies restrict the size of company logos on players' clothing. (See p. 209 0f the ATP Code of Conduct.) The idea is to prevent the NASCAR-ization of professional tennis players.

Nike and others have argued that Adidas clothing violates the rules because its three-stripes logo appears along an entire sleeve or side of a shirt. They claim that in turn, they should be permitted to place Swooshes on an entire back or sleeve of a shirt (a strategy it briefly employed through its endorsee Rafael Nadal a few years back.)

This battle began in 2004 when Nike, Reebok and Puma complained to the IOC that the athletes' warm-ups, by containing the three-stripes in the design, unfairly contained a manufacturer's logo beyond the permissible size under IOC rules. The IOC informed Adidas that its three stripes would be limited in the next Winter Games. The battle then shifted to tennis. As a result of discussions between the manufacturers and tennis' governing bodies, the Grand Slam Council (which controls the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open) informed Adidas that its three stripes would constitute a manufacturer logo subject to limited size. The ATP Tour (men's tennis) and WTA Tour (women's tennis) adopted similar positions. Adidas countered that the interpretation violated EC law because itdiscriminatedd against them and had been unfairly applied. The case is set to be tried in October, 2006.

Adidas recently obtained its own injunction relieving it from the restrictions during Wimbledon and the US Open. The litigation will be interesting to follow. Insiders comment that Nike has long envied Adidas' logo for its corporate reference and its design effect. Readers of Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There and Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World (both recommended!) will recall that the early Nike execs chose the Swoosh for its connotation of speed, but envied the fact that Adidas' logo also was part of the design of the shoe -- the three stripes provided support and identified the company.

In time, it has clearly become a logo, despite the fact that it originated in design. It will be interesting to see what arguments Adidas makes in support of the design necessity of three stripes as they apply to shorts and shirts. One they seem to already be making is that other manufacturers, including Nike have used design elements repeatedly in their clothing that provides secondary meaning for their company.

Although tennis has more important issues to address as a sport, time, money and effort will be spent in the next year as this issue is litigated. The outcome should be interesting.


I'm no Intellectual Property expert. But if the three stripes are deemed to be a logo, they would be subject to the restrictions. But if they are deemed to be a design, then they could be used by other brands because they would not be distinctive and specifically connected with Adidas. The German brand has in the past defended that the Three stripes are in fact a logo (European court cases), which has prevented other brands from using two or three stripes in their clothing. It is highgly controversial that Adidas should choose to defend the opposite now.

Am I totally wrong here?

Anonymous Luis Cassiano Neves -- 6/29/2006 6:17 AM  

You're right. The IOC and the tennis governing bodies both determined that the stripes are a logo subject to the space constraints. Adidas objects saying its a design effect and that other manufacturers have incorporated repeated designs that are recognizable but not considered logos. It seems to me Adidas has an uphill road. Agassi's shirt in the photo in the second link in my post shows it all. If they get both the "A" logo and the stripes on both shoulders they're way beyond the space rule. I'm sure the inconsistent they've made will haunt them in October if the case is tried.

Blogger Chris Callanan -- 6/29/2006 9:32 AM  

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