The Many Faces of the Average Consumer: Is It Really So Difficult to Assess Whether Two Stripes Are Similar to Three?

Lotte Anemaet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article shows the necessity of including policy concerns, in particular the need to keep signs available for competitors, when assessing a likelihood of confusion. In the Adidas/Marca case, the CJEU ruled that the need to keep signs freely available for other economic operators cannot be a relevant factor in the infringement analysis. This is particularly problematic in relation to appealing signs such as stripe motifs. These signs not only serve as a source identifier, but also appeal to consumers and therefore give trademark owners an advantage over competitors on the market. In order to offer sufficient room for the concerns of trademark owners and competitors (and ultimately also consumers), it is essential to apply normative corrections not only in favour of trademark owners but also in favour of competitors. The current analysis of confusion in EU trademark law already contains a normative correction in favour of trademark owners. From an empirical perspective, the more distinctive the trademark, the less likely consumers are to be confused when confronted with a similar sign. The CJEU, however, assumes that consumers are more likely to be confused when confronted with signs that are similar to a highly distinctive trademark. In a trademark system where this normative correction is possible in favour of trademark owners, similar steps should be taken to give sufficient weight to the interests of competitors. In this light, this article concludes that the Adidas/Marca decision should be overruled.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-213
Number of pages27
JournalIIC - International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Consumer perception
  • Court of Justice of the European Union
  • Likelihood of confusion
  • Need to keep free


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