Mallets clash in the courts over who owns the right to the use of polo player branding Australian company, Club Polo Clothing, ride off against US Giant, Polo/Lauren, in an international trademark battle.
London, 27th April 2012- Club Polo Clothing, a popular Australian polo clothing company, are fighting a court battle against Polo/Lauren for the right to continue to use and trademark their polo player logo.
Club Polo’s clothing range is very popular among the Australian polo community. The business is operated out of a modest shop-front in the small town of Yass, in the New South Wales southern tablelands.
However, for the past four years, Australian businesswomen and co-owners of Club Polo Clothing, Megan Philip and Rowena Sylvester, have fought to keep the 20-year old clothing business alive because of a court action being taken against their company by US-based Polo/Lauren. The trouble first started in October 2008, when Ms Philip lodged an application to trademark her logo with IP Australia, the Australian government agency that administers intellectual property rights.
The Club Polo logo, which is embroidered onto its range of clothing, depicts a polo player astride a galloping horse with the initials C and P either side. However, USowned Polo/Lauren, a subsidiary of the Ralph Lauren brand, owns the copyright in Australia for its famous logo of a polo player holding a mallet, while astride a galloping pony. Polo/Lauren argue that the Club Polo logo is too similar to their logo and will confuse customers.
Ms Philip designed the logo herself 16 years ago and says it seemed obvious to put a polo horse and sticks on a range of clothing that had been specifically designed for polo enthusiasts and horse lovers, especially considering that at the time, the business involved selling its products direct to customers at polo tournaments around NSW and Victoria.
“Since we started using our logo, for 16 years there apparently hasn’t been any cause for confusion and no one has brought our logo to their attention. But it is interesting that they (Polo/Lauren) only became concerned about us when we applied to lodge our trademark.
“Our design is never shown without the C and the P; it’s never shown with the silhouette on its own. If you look at the design closely, the horse is galloping at right angles to the viewer, whereas Ralph Lauren’s (design) is galloping towards you”, she said.
Ms Philip says she recognizes and understands the importance of Ralph Lauren needing to protect its brand but thinks that in this instance it is unreasonable behaviour.
The objection to the logo and application for trademark in 2008 has affected their business greatly, not only due to the costly legal fees but also because Ms Philip says that they have put the wholesale part of the business on hold. Instead, Club Polo continued to trade via heir shop-front and website mail-order businesses only.
On the 19 April, lawyers for both parties fought it out in a court hearing before IP Australia, the Australian government agency that administers intellectual property rights, on the proposed egistration of the Club Polo trademark. A decision is expected within three months. However, this is just the beginning, as the process will then begin again but this time with an objection to the use of their company name, “Club Polo Clothing”.
Ms Philips said that she couldn’t bear to think about what would happen should they not be successful. Many people may say that she could just re-brand her products, but she maintains that it is their name and their logo and it is intertwined with their business. To re-brand would mean starting a new brand and she does not think that would be fair because they have been trading for 20-years and have coexisted with Polo/Lauren up until now.
This isn’t the first time that Polo/Lauren has sought to protect their identity of their famous polo brand. Legal battles between the Ralph Lauren firm and the polo industry date back to 1984, when Ralph Lauren challenged the US Polo Association over the use of the generic name of the sport. In this case the US court ruled that both parties had rights to use the name. Licensing battles continue today between Polo/Lauren and US Polo Association, as the US Polo Association continues to expand its range of products from clothing to fragrance.
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