Adidas is known for a number of silhouettes and styles, but by far the most iconic is its Stan Smiths. The tennis shoe, which the German sportswear giant introduced in 1965, has proven vastly desirable amongst consumers (the brand has sold upwards of 30 million since its debut) and immensely influential for high fashion brands. It turns out, however, that adidas’s arch nemesis, Nike, may have been taking a bit of inspiration from the cult sneaker for its own footwear.
A bit about the Stan Smith, and exactly what elements adidas can claim ownership over. The best case we have to go by is the Adidas America v. Payless Shoes case, which was decided in 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. In that case, the court held that “Adidas first introduced the Superstar Trade Dress in 1969 and its principle features have not changed since that time. It consists of: (1) three parallel stripes (i.e., the Three—Stripe Mark) on the side of the shoe parallel to equidistant small holes; (2) a rubber ‘shell toe’; (3) a particularly flat sole; and (4) a colored portion on the outer back heel that identifies the shoes as Adidas’ brand.” These four elements come together to make up the brand’s legally-protected “Superstar Trade Dress.” If these elements sound familiar that is because they also come together to make up the Stan Smith.
Arguably the most prominent element of the Stan Smith is the heel tab. As I noted when discussing the relatively recent Alexander McQueen and Isabel Marant copies of the Stan Smith, even though these brands co-opted a number of elements from adidas’s shoe (think: the stitching patterns on the sides, the particularly flat outsole, the same overall silhouette/profile), the most significant was the use and placement of the heel tabs because it is that particular element that gives the shoes a distinctly Adidas feel. And when an aspect of a design serves as an indicator of source (or brand), that connection raises a trademark inquiry.
Enter: Nike’s Tennis Classic Ultra Leather Sneakers (above, right), which are also a bit of a Nike staple that originated as early as the 1970's and have been reintroduced - and heavily pushed - in recent years. At first glance, the heel tab should jump out at you (having just familiarized yourself with some of the most important individual elements of the adidas Stan Smith (above, left)). It has almost exactly the same shape and placement as an adidas heel tab, and similarly, it is of contrasting color to the body of the shoe and bears branding there – just like adidas. But to make this a proper jab at adidas, Nike opted out of using a solid Swoosh on the side of the shoe (as nearly all of its shoes have) and instead, went minimal – using only perforated holes to form the outline of its famous Swoosh logo. In addition to these damning elements, Nike also utilizes a somewhat similar stitching pattern on the sides of the shoes. And to top it all off, the shoe is a tennis one.
Luckily for Nike, the similarities end there, and chances are, this is one fight that adidas probably does not want to initiate. Having said that, it is certainly an interesting move by Nike, no?