Schools dropping/suing Adidas

Submitted by Marcus818 on January 3rd, 2013 at 2:47 AM
I read this article a couple weeks ago and never saw anything about it posted. After reading Brian's uniform complaints and the comments that followed, I figured it should be brought up. It seems Adidas owes factory workers in Asia a few million dollars and Universities are starting to take notice. Washington and Rutgers, who's major sports are with Nike, have dropped Adidas who supply some of their smaller sports. Cornell also has recently dropped Adidas. But the biggest school/contract doing something is Wisconsin. They're actually suing Adidas. Who knows how big this will get or if Michigan will take any action. Unlikely I think, since the contract is worth so much, but hopefully it pushes them away from Adidas when the contract is up in 3 years.



January 3rd, 2013 at 8:08 AM ^

How is this possible? I can't imagine Nike owning a trademark on a color -- much less a color of a brand (or the associated goodwill) that they don't even own. Link?


January 3rd, 2013 at 8:35 AM ^

I don't know if Nike owns a "color" but have you ever heard of trade dress, which is a legal term of art that generally refers to characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging (or even the design of a building) that signify the source of the product to consumers.

I represented a client some years ago who obtained protection for lime green packaging for a product it produced.

Here is a Wiki link if you are interested:


January 3rd, 2013 at 9:28 AM ^

you cannot trademark a color.  Does Nike get a cut of the "Legal Pad" writing paper that I am using right now due to its sheer yellowness?  And how close does the yellow have to be to be in Nike's "territory."  I think Crayola would be all over Nike's ass if that is the case. 


January 3rd, 2013 at 9:52 AM ^

may own the term but they do not own the color.  Unless you literally invented a new color, one that could not properly be accounted for by the alteration or blending of previously existing colors, like invented something previously never even considered in the wonderful and endless world of colors, you cannot have exclusive right to the use of it.  The very fact that the word orange is in that term means that the color itself is fair game for anybody they want to use it.  Just call it "rustic orange" or "western orange" and your good.  Nike does not own Maizish-Yellow.  Michigan does not own Maizish-Yellow.  Maizish-Yellow is its own boss.


January 3rd, 2013 at 10:09 AM ^

Apparently you didn't read the link I posted above. For instance, 3M trademarked the "canary yellow" used in their Post-It notes. If you have a certain color combination that is distinctly yours, you can trademark it and collect royalties if anyone else wants to ever use that specific shade.

Also, Cadbury has the shade of purple on its wrappers trademarked and Tiffany's has the blue on it's packaging trademarked. I even remember a celebrity who had to get special permission from Tiffany's to use the color on their wedding cake.


January 3rd, 2013 at 10:11 AM ^

Trademark is not used to protect inventions, it's used to protect things associated with a brand. Michigan didn't invent the letter M or block lettering, but they can still trademark the block M. 

And, yes, you can trademark a color. Tony the Tiger Orange is a trademarked color and I learned about that one 10 years ago. Generally, trademarks are industry-specific. The idea behind a trademark is not to prevent others from using the color, but to prevent competitors from using your trademarked item to compete with you. In the case of Nike, they put time and money into developing jerseys for Michigan. If a competitor can come in and offer replica jerseys for half the cost without going through the design process that Nike went through, then that is a disadvantage to Nike.

That said, I agree that trademarking a color is beyond ridiculous. If anyone is able to trademark it, it should be Michigan because the color is associated with the brand. However, that's not how it works in the legal system.


January 3rd, 2013 at 10:59 AM ^

As a technology attorney who dabbles on patent/trademark issues, I'm with the other guys. You absolutely can trademark a color. Colors aren't that abstract; there's a reason Home Depot can reproduce the same tint in any can of paint on demand. It isn't that Nike can prevent ANYONE from using that color; it's that they can prevent its use in similar contexts (such as in Michigan-related merchandise). It's pretty standard stuff.


January 3rd, 2013 at 11:12 AM ^

who dabbles in many things that i consider to be ridiculous, I say I hope Nike likes an annoyed Judge looking down at them with a "you can't be serious" look on his face why Nike tries to plead its case that they in deed own the color yellow.  Michigan/Adidas can splash a miniscule, wholly irrelevant hint of some other kind of yellow into a bucket, throw it on their uniforms and say "this is not Varisty-Maize, this is Awesome-Maize." 

I guess Illinois and Clemson are going to have to duke it out for ownership rights to orange.  And don't even get me started on Northwestern and TCU.


January 3rd, 2013 at 1:05 PM ^

IANAL, but I do know that the courts prevented a fashion company from trademarking red soles for women's shoes.  Given that, I find it difficult to believe that a decent lawyer couldn't convince a court that a particular shade of yellow is the exclusive property of Nike, even as it relates solely to Michigan athletics.


January 3rd, 2013 at 12:00 PM ^

You can claim it, but how can you enforce it?

Target's website has 3 different shades of red...including two different ones for their logo alone-

Look at their header, logo, and flyer.

And how is that different from Kmart red or Meijer red?

Trademarked color, similar industry (it's not like Post It protecting their yellow by saying a car can't be painted that color), yet there's nothing there. It's a game to keep trademark lawyers in business.  And scare off the little guys.  Because these are companies that could afford the lawsuit...yet they're all basically using the same color.

In Nike's case they'd have a hard time in court trying to prove they "developed" Michigan yellow because Michigan yellow existed before we had a contract with Nike.  So they can claim they own the name because they put a TM on it, but they're not going to win saying they "own a color." 

Frankly we could solve all this by going back to actual maize. The kind we were wearing before anyone paid Nike a dime. They're the ones that turned it brighter.


January 3rd, 2013 at 10:18 AM ^

Yes, and the specific colorway is "Varsity Maize."  Nike also uses "Goldenrod" for Iowa and "Del Sol" for the LA Lakers.


I too wish to see a return to the swoosh.  I like Adidas, but only when it comes to soccer (you know, the 'other' football) gear and accessories.  Nike apparel just looked better, IMO, when watching various M teams on the field of play.  For better or worse, I will always associate the '97 football team with those Nike uniforms.

French West Indian

January 3rd, 2013 at 12:35 PM ^

I'm no expert on legalities but doesn't the idea of trademarking a color really boil down to naming the color?  There is a subjective element to identifying and naming colors that does seem to involve some honest work.  And when you start carefully examing colors, it becomes apparent that there are almost infinite possibilities.

Just take a look at paint colors.  It gets mind-blowing pretty quickly.  If for example Sherwin-Williams comes up with a shade and they call it "Nantucket Seaside" then it's not just the literal color (in the scientific sense of hues, saturations, etc) at stake but also the emotional imagery associated with the name of that color.  There's nothing stopping another company, Pratt & Lambert for example, from literally copying the formula of the color but it'd be difficult for them to recreate the emotional element involved in the naming of the color.

It can seem silly at times but there are good reasons for companies to stake out legal claims for the work they've done.


January 3rd, 2013 at 6:56 AM ^

Rumor goes that Nike has "Maize" trademarked. Some disagree with this saying you can't copyright a color. I dunno, but color did seem to get lighter with the change, It has been getting lighter over the years, I heard to make it look better on camera, though I don't have a source.


January 3rd, 2013 at 8:16 AM ^

Copyright and trademark are two different things. Frankly, I don't believe this is true ... maybe Nike could have a trademark on the name "Maize" associated with athletic apparel, but I don't think they can get a trademark on the appearance of the color maize -- this could be why addidas calls it something else. It is still absurd, though, and if true it is definitely a fuck-up by whoever negotiated the Nike contract long ago if Nike has the right to block Michigan from letting a third party vendor use the name "Maize."


January 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 AM ^

at the color of the book 3 and Out.  That is adidas and that it pretty damn close to the previous "maize" type color that everybody is referring to.  Adidas has change the color of the uniform since they have gotten a hold of it, but not due to the lack of ability to use a color similar or identical to the color used in the Nike years. 


January 3rd, 2013 at 3:04 AM ^

Agreed. A few million seems like a pretty small number though... if we're talkin legit reparations for the shitty conditions those people are forced to work in. Its hard to imagine Nike not having these same issues in the future; cheap foreign labor is the name of they're game if I'm not mistaken.

Hardware Sushi

January 3rd, 2013 at 9:07 AM ^

Actually, the exact same reason schools are leaving Adidas has happened to Nike in the past 5 years, they just decided it was worth paying a couple million dollars to settle with the factory workers than have a bunch of schools drop them publicly.

Seems like a pretty easy decision when it comes out the other side like this.


January 3rd, 2013 at 3:04 PM ^

Nike used the same factory and has paid the workers so in this case adidas is worse.  There are also groups working to try to get the university to drop adidas over this so upset sports fans are not alone at the hate of adidas.