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Adidas loses EU court battle over ‘three stripe’ design

German sportswear giant Adidas on Wednesday lost a legal battle to trademark its "three stripe" motif in the EU, as a court ruled the design was not distinctive enough to deserve protection.

Adidas loses EU court battle over 'three stripe' design
Archive photo shows an Adidas shoe. Photo: DPA

The three parallel stripes seen adorning everything from running shoes to sports bags and the sleeves of t-shirts are “an ordinary figurative mark”, the General Court of the European Union ruled.

The court, the EU's second highest tribunal, upheld a 2016 ruling by the bloc's intellectual property regulator cancelling the registration of the three-stripe design as a trademark following a challenge by a Belgian shoe 
company.

“The General Court of the EU confirms the invalidity of the Adidas EU trade mark which consists of three parallel stripes applied in any direction,” the court said in a statement.

Adidas had not proved the motif had acquired a “distinctive character” throughout the 28 countries of the bloc that would qualify for legal protection, the court said.

SEE ALSO: Shoe-Bahn: Berliners queue for sneaker with sewn-in annual transit ticket

“The mark is not a pattern mark composed of a series of regularly repetitive elements, but an ordinary figurative mark,” the court said.

The ruling is the latest round in a long legal tussle between Adidas and Belgian rival Shoe Branding Europe, which as far back as 2009 won trademark status for a two-stripe design, triggering court action from the German firm.

Adidas, which is based in the small Bavarian city of Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg, can appeal against Wednesday's decision to the European Court of Justice, the bloc's highest court. 

 

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EUROPEAN UNION

KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Claims over the weekend that the EU planned to bring in a new tax which will nearly double the price of Swedish 'snus' tobacco led to the hashtag #Swexit trending over the weekend. But a commission spokesman stressed on Monday that the story was inaccurate.

KEY POINTS: Is the EU really planning to double the price of Swedish snus?

Where does the claim come from? 

The Aftonbladet newspaper on Sunday ran a story based around a “secret, leaked” proposal from the European Commission for a new excise tax on tobacco which the newspaper claimed would be presented at the start of next month, with discussion then taking place between various EU member states. 

The article does not name a source or quote from or show any parts of the document, but it quotes Patrik Hildingsson, the head of communications at the snus producer Swedish Match, who it says has “received the coming report”. 

What was the reaction? 

The story generated a near viral response on Swedish Twitter. The Sweden Democrats party jumped on the story, with the Twitter account for the party’s EU MEPs tweeting using the hashtag #Swexit, which then started to trend. 

According to Charlie Weimers, one of the Sweden Democrats’ MEPs, the commission is proposing a 12.5 percent increase in tax on cigarettes, a 200 percent increase in taxes on snus, and 500 percent increase in taxes on tobacco-free snus.

In a way, this is unsurprising as snus is used by about 17 percent of people in Sweden. The tobacco product is made by grinding up tobacco with flavourings and other ingredients and placing it in small bags which are pushed under the upper lip. It has been linked to a higher incidence of mouth cancer, but is much less dangerous than smoking. 

Why is snus sensitive for Sweden? 

When Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, it was granted an exemption from the ban on oral tobacco products the European Union had brought in back in 1992. Companies are allowed to manufacture snus in Sweden and sell it to their citizens, but they are not allowed to sell snus in other EU counties.  

Is it true that the European Commission plans to force higher tax on snus? 

Dan Ferrie, a European spokesperson on tax issues, told the EU’s daily press briefing on Monday that the commission’s coming proposals on tobacco taxation would not affect Sweden’s freedom to tax the product. 

“Sweden has had an exemption since it entered the EU when it comes to the sale of snus,” he said. “The proposal that we are working on right now is not going to change that situation because the sale of snus is not permitted outside Sweden. Sweden ill as a result continue to have full freedom to set its own tax rate and tariffs for snus.” 

Already on Sunday, Sweden’s EU commissioner Ylva Johansson said that she had stressed to the commission developing the new proposals the “unreasonable consequences for Swedish snus” if it were to force a higher tax rate. 

“My judgement is that this proposal has not yet been developed to the level where it can be proposed,” she said in an sms to Swedish state TV broadcaster SVT. “Tax questions require unanimity within the Ministerial Council.”

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