Brand and trademark establishment is of central importance to any successful business. Maintaining a brand’s image is essential, and using trademark law to protect business reputation is an important component of that. One way of doing so is through opposition of trademark applications as demonstrated by a recent case between French retailer Lacoste and Polish clothing company ‘KAJMAN’.
The ruling of the EU General Court agreed with Lacoste’s view that there is a risk that the use of the caiman would cause confusion amongst consumers, resulting in a potential loss of prestige. The opposition against the Polish company’s application to register the sign for leather goods, clothing and footwear was therefore upheld.
Confusion can arise as a result of visual, phonetic and conceptual similarity. The Court agreed that from a conceptual perspective there was an average degree of similarity. However, visually, any such likeness was in fact very minor. Despite clear differences between the two logos, it was nevertheless necessary to appreciate the possibility of the public “recognizing and retaining a memory of the imperfect representation”. Considering that both ‘KAJMAN’ and Lacoste provide similar services the focus was on the risk that the two companies may in fact be perceived to be variants of one another.
Brand And Trademark Dispute
One of the arguments put forward by ‘KAJMAN’ was that allowing the Lacoste mark such extensive protection would result in an “unjustified monopoly” on all crocodile marks. However, the General Court was keen on recognizing the importance of being able to oppose a trademark registration specifically where there is concern over damage to a brand’s reputation.
It is interesting to note that this is not the first brand and trademark dispute in which the French company has attempted to seek exclusivity with regards to its use of the crocodile on the basis of potential confusion for its consumers. The longest lasting dispute involves Singapore based rival Crocodile International, with Lacoste attempting to assert trademark rights in China and, as of recently, in New Zealand.
In 2008, it further targeted a Gloucestershire dental practice on the basis that they registered the logo of a grinning reptile to be used on their welcome sign. Shortly after, clothing supplier Baker Street Clothing became another one of its targets after registering the mark ‘Alligator’. In both cases Lacoste was unsuccessful. The decisions were important in what seemed to be a move to limit the scope of the Lacoste trademark monopoly.
Judging from the recent victory over ‘KAJMAN’ however, it is clear that the French company remains undeterred and it seems that the Courts have begun to take on a more strict approach in what they deem to be potential trademark infringements.
For more details on the recent Lacoste victory see the article here.