On Tuesday, Art Basel sued the German sportswear manufacturer Adidas for trademark infringement and a host of related allegations in a Florida federal court.
Art Basel and its Swiss parent company, MCH Group, assert that Adidas did not receive permission to emblazon “Art Basel” on roughly 1,000 limited-edition sneakers distributed during the fair’s 15th edition in Miami Beach last November. The art fair—which holds a registered trademark on its name—is seeking treble damages, the destruction of the “offending” shoes and connected material, and other relief.
Along with its Miami Beach iteration, Art Basel boasts editions in Hong Kong and Basel, Switzerland, all of which attract numerous high-net-worth collectors and hosted an estimated $3 billion worth of artworks in 2016. Calling its brand one of the fair’s most “valuable and important corporate assets,” the complaint notes that Art Basel has licensed its “mark” to several companies—from UBS to BMW, but not Adidas.
The complaint charges that by placing “Art Basel” on its shoes without such an agreement, Adidas infringed on a “registered and incontestable” trademark, while implying a nonexistent affiliation between the manufacturer and the art fair brand in consumers’ minds.
“Adidas has enjoyed the benefits of an exclusive license of the ART BASEL mark without paying for or obtaining a license from Plaintiffs,” reads the complaint. It goes on to state the Adidas was “unjustly enriched” through the alleged infringement.
A representative for Art Basel told Artsy that “the complaint speaks for itself” and declined to comment further.
According to the timeline laid out in the complaint, Adidas began making and distributing the sneakers in mid-November 2016, ahead of the art fair’s run from November 30th to December 4th. The shoe—a limited-edition version of the company’s popular EQT line—features the words “Art Basel” in all capital letters on the tongue, beneath the Adidas logo. The fair’s name also appears on some of the tags accompanying the shoe.
The limited-edition sneakers were distributed at a pair of dance performances on November 30th and promoted on Adidas’s social media accounts, the complaint states. The dancers were clad in matching uniforms and the sneakers, and performed at two different locations in Miami. The sneakers were given to members of the audience and to the dancers.
Further, the complaint charges that Adidas also allegedly arranged for journalists to travel to Miami and report on the sneaker, citing coverage in publications including Hypebeast
and the Nice Kicks blog. The latter described
the shoe as featuring a “predominately white upper, sleek reflective striping and an Art Basel labeled tongue.”
Images of the sneaker accompanied these pieces and auctions of the shoe on eBay, which the complaint charges “continue confusing and misleading” the public “as to an association between [Art Basel] and Adidas.” Currently, the shoes are priced at $200 and up on the online auction website.
The unlicensed use of “Art Basel” by Adidas has surprised some observers. A writer for the website The Fashion Law called
the complaint “striking” given that Adidas has sued numerous companies in trademark infringement-related disputes recently, including Tesla and Forever 21. And the complaint itself notes that Adidas’s participation in numerous licensing agreements implies it is not ignorant of how these agreements work.
Adidas declined to comment for this article. As of publication time, it had not responded to Art Basel’s complaint in court.