As the co-branding arrangement between Adidas and Ye (formerly known as “Kanye West”) comes to a close, one major question remains – who owns what?
Ye is no stranger to co-branding, having partnered up with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Giuseppe Zanotti, and Nike. After a dispute with Nike over royalties in 2013, Ye turned to Adidas, who offered him the royalties and creative freedom he desired.
A significant number of footwear designs were generated under the Adidas-Ye agreement, with over 30 models of Yeezy Boosts released in 2019 alone. It is estimated that the partnership generated $1.7 billion in 2021. Although the agreement between Adidas and Ye is private, it is widely believed that Adidas owns the shoe designs and Ye owns the trademarks.
But with Adidas’ recent announcement that it has decided to cut ties with Ye, the issue of who owns what will be resolved according to the terms of Adidas’ agreement. Even if Ye maintains ownership of his trademarks, there remains the question of how they may be used with respect to future shoe designs. On the other hand, to avoid potential trademark infringement situations, how could Adidas use shoe designs previously associated with Yeezy without creating consumer confusion.
While co-branding is relatively new and becoming ever more frequent, it is often considered to be a type of trademark licensing used strategically by companies. Trademark licensing allows someone to commercially use a mark owned by another according to terms and conditions jointly decided. For instance, a company might collaborate with an influencer’s brand to generate hype for a new product line or revitalize brand recognition. Managing intellectual property rights for such arrangements, especially those that are long-term, can be complex. For Ye and Adidas, the future may be uncertain concerning who owns what.