Equestrian accents. Preppy style. All-American flare. Ralph Lauren’s Polo-branded sensibility is evident in his clothing, accessories and home décor line as well as his new restaurant, the Polo Bar, around the corner from the Ralph Lauren Polo Fifth Avenue store. The swanky Manhattan hot spot, with its sporty artwork, burnished leather banquettes and society clubhouse, may be where the Bronx-born designer headed to sip the “Prince of Wales” spirit when news came that Ralph Lauren Corp had lost its trademark fight with the United States Polo Association (“USPA”) over the use of its logo depicting a horse-mounted polo player swinging a mallet.
In reversing a ruling by a lower-court judge, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Wednesday it was incorrect to conclude that a 2012 ruling banning the use of a double horsemen trademark on fragrance products meant it could not be used on other products, such as eyewear. The written ruling stated that it was erroneous for the district court to have applied a prior injunction that was limited to fragrance/cosmetic products to use in other markets.
The logo that is the subject of this dispute is known as the “double horsemen mark,” which depicts two mounted polo players vying for a ball. The USPA sold nearly one million pairs of sunglasses bearing the mark between 2009 and 2012 but stopped sales after litigation began. The dispute between the polo sports governing body and Polo Ralph Lauren has gone on for more than three decades. Talk about litigation lethargy.
The USPA is the governing body of the sport of polo in the United States since 1890. It oversees tournament rules and safety regulations to safeguard the welfare of both horses and players. The USPA is funded by sales from the officially licensed consumer brand, U.S. Polo Assn.
“A market-by-market analysis is needed,” a three-judge appeals panel said May 13 as it returned the case to the lower court for further analysis. “The eyeglass and apparel industries seem closer to each other than either is to the fragrance/cosmetic market.” As such, the injunction, which fell short of being clear and unambiguous, did not bar use of the double horsemen mark across all markets.
The federal appeals court opined that the USPA cannot be held in contempt for selling sunglasses with a logo that resembles Polo Ralph Lauren’s famous trademark of a single horseman whacking a ball, which is featured on clothing and accessories sold under the Polo Ralph Lauren brand trademark around the globe.
“USPA (United States Polo Association) argues that the underlying injunction did not enjoin all uses of the mark. We agree and vacate the contempt order and remand for further proceedings,” specified the Second Circuit.
A lower court judge ruled that the Polo Association could be held in contempt for violating an injunction against such use dating back to 1984.
In a statement, Ralph Lauren said the courts have found the Polo Association to be a “repeat infringer of our iconic Polo Player trademark.” According to Ralph Lauren, the company will continue to forcefully pursue claims against the USPA and its licensees worldwide.
It wasn’t a total legal loss for the aspirational brand that designs, markets and distributes products that evoke a sense of fine living using luxurious materials. The Second Circuit wrote the injunction barred the Polo Association from using the double horseman mark and the word “polo” on its fragrances and beauty products.
Unsurprisingly, W. David Cummings, President and Chief Executive Officer of USPA Properties, Inc., said the company was pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision. In a release Mr. Cummings explained: “The validity of USPA’s Double Horsemen Marks has been litigated and upheld repeatedly, but unfortunately Ralph Lauren continues to find new and creative ways to misuse the legal system in its relentless campaign to prevent the lawful marketing of USPA’s authentic merchandise.”
This latest trademark decision isn’t the only setback for Ralph Lauren (RL), whose stock is down almost 30% this year, making it the third worst performing stock in the entire S&P 500, notes CNNMoney. The reason may have to do with the fact millennials have rejected in record numbers logo-centric clothing and accessories. Individualism is favored over homogeneity, and the Ralph Lauren prestige brand arguably represents a bygone era of superfluous uniformity reminiscent of an upscale, blue-blooded Americana fashion sense that is no longer representative of Americans and their dreams.
IMAGE COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN.