European Court rules on bicycle trademark

Posted on: January 9th, 2015

The European appeal court has made a legal ruling that could be of vital importance to individuals and/or companies who depend on trademarks.

The designer, Polo Ralph Lauren, protested to the application of the registration of trademark as they stated that it was too akin to their current (and very well-known) registered trademark. The Polo Ralph Lauren logo depicts a polo player on a horse with his polo stick held aloft. The mark in dispute shows an individual on a bicycle also holding a polo stick above his head.

Trademark law confers a right on the owner of a registered trademark to dispute an application if it is for a trademark which is analogous enough to an existing trademark that there is “a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public”. In considering this test, the court takes into account expected public perception of the trademark, along with other factors such as the market.

In this case, it was thought that the public, when observing the ‘similar’ logo, could easily confuse it with the Polo Ralph Lauren logo. This was due to the fact that the Polo Ralph Lauren logo is often represented in a pocket-sized fashion (usually on clothing or other garments) – thus, any dissimilarity between the two logos may not be instantly apparent to the naked eye.

The judgement demonstrates the strict nature of trademark infringement – trademarks do not have to be a complete match of each other to cause conflict (and possible legal proceedings). It also highlights the importance of ensuring that, when designing a new logo, legal advice is taken at the beginning of the process to confirm that an infringement is not likely to happen in the future. This advice may prove vital, and can assist in evading a costly conflict at a later stage.