Many consumers are well aware of the renowned fashion empire “Polo Ralph Lauren” that specializes in luxury goods ranging from cosmetics to fragrances, not forgetting the quintessential outer apparel and eyewear. The luxury brand is affectionately known by its fans as “Polo”.
As it turns out, another brand also goes by “Polo” – the United States Polo Association (U.S. POLO ASSN). The U.S POLO ASSN is an association that represents every facet of the polo sport. The problem arose when they started selling outer apparel and eyewear, effectively putting them in the same/overlapping trade as Polo Ralph Lauren.
To the discerning consumer who know their “Polos” from “POLOs”, this may not be that big of a deal. But to most other consumers, both brands’ truncated names and logos bore similarities which led to confusion, and perhaps almost a lack of differentiation between the brands’ goods. This gave Polo Ralph Lauren a case against U.S. POLO ASSN, claiming that there has been an infringement of their trade mark.
When trying to establish whether or not an infringement has occurred, the courts found that even though the goods sold by both brands were similar, the marks bore a low degree of similarity.
How exactly can brand owners discourage or avoid the likelihood of brand confusion?
In determining the likelihood of brand confusion to occur among consumers, it came down to one main factor: the price point of the product.
Pricing became a topic of interest in this case as it establishes the degree of care an average consumer would take when purchasing a product from either brands. The courts decided to use the average price of both brands’ eyewear products as a benchmark for several reasons:
- Eyewear products are generally expensive items and consumers are unlikely to purchase eyewear products on a regular basis; and
- Consumers are inclined to inspect the product closely to determine its fit in terms of comfort and style; and
- Consumers are likely to need assistance from a salesperson before making a purchase decision.
With that in mind, it is safe to say that consumers are more likely to exercise a higher degree of care and attention when making a purchase from either brands. Coupled with the fact that it is found that the mark bears a low degree of similarity, the courts ruled that there was no brand confusion or infringement of trade marks.
This time, the courts ruled in favour of United States Polo Association. It is unclear whether Polo Ralph Lauren would appeal at this point.