Our friend Gregory Babcock (the one who wrote that great piece on Raf Simons not too long ago) took on an interesting topic recently for Complex, in an article entitled, “How Gucci Stole adidas' Adilette Design.” Babcock does a good job of setting the stage for the alleged copying at issue here. He wrote: “With the adidas Adilette [top] first dropping in 1972, Gucci had plenty of time to get ‘inspired’ by the ‘three stripes’ original when it came time to produce the ‘Pursuit '72’ slide [bottom] — which was released for the first time last year.”
Babcock continues on to write what many of you may be thinking: “One look at the Adilette flip flop and you can tell that Gucci shamelessly ripped off the German original—even down to the placement of the branding on the sole.” And not lost on us: the hardly subtle similarity between the 1972 release year of the adidas pair and the ‘72 in the name of the Gucci pair.
One thing Babcock didn’t address: What, if anything, can adidas do about it? This question is especially relevant now considering that the German sportswear giant is on a bit of a suing spree. (You may recall that it has recently sued Marc Jacobs, Skechers, and Forever 21 recently for copying its three-stripe trademark). Another interesting bit of information to consider here is that we know that Gucci is a bit of a repeat offender; remember that time the Italian design house shamelessly ripped off Acronym’s GT-J5A jacket?
So, what can adidas do? Well, Adidas can sue Gucci for federal trade dress infringement, that’s what. (Note: I could not find a design patent covering the design of the Adilette slide. So, we’re going to pass on a discussion of design patent infringement and focus exclusively on trade dress – which refers to the design or configuration of a product.)
I’m not saying this would be an easy, open-and-shut case for adidas but … the sportswear brand does appear to have grounds to file suit considering that it has federally registered trade dress protection in its Adilette slide. According to the trademark registration, which was issued in 2004 (and renewed last year), the design has been used in commerce (aka, has been for sale) by adidas since 1972 and “consists of three stripes positioned on the top part of a slide.”
Adidas’s trade dress registration could be problematic for Gucci primarily because its Pursuit ’72 slide has three prominent stripes in a strikingly similar place as those covered by adidas’s registration. However, our inquiry does not stop there because the three stripes on Gucci’s sandal serve as a trademark of the design house – one that has federal registrations in a number of classes of goods (think: eyewear, jewelry, bags, and clothing). Interestingly, none of the registrations for the Gucci three-stripe mark extend to footwear. So, while Gucci may be able to claim common law trade dress over its three stripes in connection with footwear, federal trade dress protection is stronhger, and thus, adidas would likely be triumphant if this ever did go to court. Depending on just how many pairs of these $160 sandals Gucci is selling, adidas may deem this a case worth initiating. More to come, maybe …