In trademark dispute, Ralph Lauren wins round against U.S. Polo Association

Florida consumers are no doubt aware of Ralph Lauren, the designer who for years has sold fashionable, preppy garments, accessories and fragrances emblazoned with his signature polo pony logo.

They might also be familiar with U.S. Polo Association, a less costly brand of clothing that also uses a horseman logo.

But do they ever get the two of them confused?

Ralph Lauren thinks so. It filed its first lawsuit against U.S. Polo Association in 1984 and has sued the company several times since.

Recently, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ralph Lauren on a new lawsuit. This time, the court held that just because U.S. Polo Association has been allowed to use its horseman logo on garments does not mean it can use that same image on bottles of fragrance.

That is because previous decisions have required U.S. Polo Association to display its logo in certain ways, such as with the acronym “U.S.P.A.” beneath it, to ensure that customers do not mistakenly think they are buying Ralph Lauren. U.S. Polo Association has not been doing that on its fragrance bottles, however, leading the court to agree with Ralph Lauren that consumer confusion might result.

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this decision has on the fashion community. Designers like Ralph Lauren depend on brand recognition and a certain amount of reverence for their image, so they tend to be aggressive about trying to stop what they see as infringement. This decision might make it easier for them to distinguish themselves and harder for competitors to use similar imagery in their logos or designs.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, “In horseman logo battle, Ralph Lauren prevails at 2nd Circuit,” Erin Geiger Smith, Feb. 11, 2013

In our Naples office, we assist clients with all manner of intellectual property issues. You could visit the “Trademark” page of our website if you are interested in learning more.