Ralph Lauren takes London's Chunk clothing company to European court in bike polo trademark row

Mallet-swinging logos face off in Luxembourg

by John Stevenson   December 16, 2013  

bike polo (CClicensed by tink20seven via Flickr)

Multinational designer clothing and fragrance company Ralph Lauren is taking a London clothing company to the European Court of Justice to prevent it from registering a logo featuring a bike polo player.

Ralph Lauren says Chunk Clothing’s logo, which depicts a bike rider swinging a polo mallet, is too similar to its own famous mallet-wielding horse rider.

But according to Kiran Randhawa in the Evening Standard Ralph Lauren lost an appeal earlier this year that aimed to prevent Chunk registering the trademark.

The Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market had decided to grant Chunk’s request to register its bike-rider logo and when Ralph Lauren appealed, the decision went against it and it was ordered to pay €850 (£716) of Chunk’s costs.


The Ralph Lauren Polo logo

Chunk has spent £50,000 on the dispute with Ralph Lauren so far and has been trying to register the trademark for four years. Trevor Callaghan, Chunk's director of finance, said: “[The process] seems to be loaded in favour of the big corporates. They have big pockets.”


The Chunk Clothing logo

It’s not the first time Ralph Lauren has attempted to defend itself against visuals it deems too similar to its own. In 2011 a US federal judge ruled that the the U.S. Polo Association could not use its logo, which shows two horseback polo riders, one swinging a mallet through the air, for a fragrance.

The USPA claimed that Ralph Lauren was “attempting to monopolize the depiction of the sport of polo”. But the court found that the combination of the dual rider logo, the word polo and a perfume bottle could cause “customer confusion”.

Islington-based Chunk sponsors a London bike polo team and supported the 2009 European championships in Geneva and the 2010 world’s in Berlin.

The resurgence of all things urban and cycling in the last few years has included a boom in bike polo. A London league, the London Hardcourt Bike Polo Association, was founded in 2009 and is working toward the creation of a UK-wide body.

41 user comments

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I thought the King of England owned Polo?

posted by jason.timothy.jones [252 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:32

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Actually Chunk maybe taking the preverbal here http://www.chunkclothing.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=11_18 and have you seen the price?

posted by jason.timothy.jones [252 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:41

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I had a shirt from Polo once. Full of holes it was.

posted by allez neg [399 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:45

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They shouls settle this on the Polo field, a team of bike riders on horses against a team of horse riders on bikes. Bloody great viewing - I'd pay to see that.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
I thought of that while riding my bicycle.
~ Einstein, in reference to the Theory of Relativity

posted by stealfwayne [47 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:52

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William Black wrote:
I would say that's pretty fair from Ralph Lauren..

Take a look at chunk as a brand and they really are very similar in style and ethos/target demographic etc you could even say they've aped the Ralph Lauren website, yes one is on a horse and one is on a bike...but come on you don't need to be an expert in IP Law they've even copied Ralph Lauren's bloody 2013 t-shirt designs!

^^Chunk

^^Polo

This.

To me, it's either just a blatant rip-off of the Ralph Lauren "Polo" brand or, if not, at least a tongue-in-cheek parody of it, but neither of which are commercially acceptable. It's not sports-wear, it's clearly fashion-wear and the prices aren't vastly cheaper than Ralph Lauren's either.

Nothing against the Chunk brand, and I admire their tenacity in defending it to date, but there can only be one outcome here. It's a world away from the Specialized/Cafe Roubaix debate last week.

posted by parksey [107 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:55

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stealfwayne wrote:
They shouls settle this on the Polo field, a team of bike riders on horses against a team of horse riders on bikes. Bloody great viewing - I'd pay to see that.

the Pool will have to be shallow for the bikes though

posted by jason.timothy.jones [252 posts]
16th December 2013 - 14:57

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crazy-legs wrote:
It's like Specialized / Cafe Roubaix all over again.

Smile

It's not though, Specialized had a Copyright/TradeMark on a place name (shouldn't have even got it in the first place)
This is RL's logo, two different things.

It's fairly obvious that when Chunk did this they had the RL logo in mind.
Can't see it lasting long in court.

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posted by glynr36 [127 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:05

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"I had a shirt from Polo once. Full of holes it was.

posted by allez neg"

MINT....

The_Kaner
FREEEEEEEEDOM!

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posted by The _Kaner [322 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:05

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jason.timothy.jones wrote:
Actually Chunk maybe taking the preverbal here http://www.chunkclothing.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=11_18 and have you seen the price?

My sympathy for them has nose dived considerably.

Awful clothes that should only be sold at the arse end of TK Maxx end of season sales.

posted by farrell [1015 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:27

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I was sceptical of the whole 'little guys take on big business' when I read that they'd spent £50k on the affair. Seeing the link to the website confirms that they're quite consciously taking the piss.

posted by allez neg [399 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:33

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The cynic in me thinks all of this attention is exactly what they were trying to provoke all along

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posted by tom_w [46 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:46

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Looking on their site they seem to lack any originality as a brand, everything they do is a play on someone else's work.

Looks like their £50k bill is going to increase when the court orders them to pay RL's costs as well!

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posted by glynr36 [127 posts]
16th December 2013 - 15:52

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No - this is very different. I am not a lawyer, but I think RL have a point here. The logo is confusing and the products too similar. I think a request to modify the Chunky one would be reasonable in this case.

Whereas Cafe Roubaix were honest in their "innocent" usage of an obscure trademark, I just have the niggling feeling Chunky have gone too far.

Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

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posted by jmaccelari [91 posts]
16th December 2013 - 16:30

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The logos do have some significant differences, but the point of the Chunk one seems to be to play off of RL's. In fact playing off RL seems to be their whole schtick.

So, not a surprise it's bitten them back and a long way from the Specialized thing IMO.

posted by Chuck [294 posts]
16th December 2013 - 16:36

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They do seem to specalise in "zany" parody t-shirts. This ain't Café Roubaix all over again.

posted by Al__S [419 posts]
16th December 2013 - 16:49

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parksey wrote:
William Black wrote:
I would say that's pretty fair from Ralph Lauren..

Take a look at chunk as a brand and they really are very similar in style and ethos/target demographic etc you could even say they've aped the Ralph Lauren website, yes one is on a horse and one is on a bike...but come on you don't need to be an expert in IP Law they've even copied Ralph Lauren's bloody 2013 t-shirt designs!

This.

To me, it's either just a blatant rip-off of the Ralph Lauren "Polo" brand or, if not, at least a tongue-in-cheek parody of it, but neither of which are commercially acceptable. It's not sports-wear, it's clearly fashion-wear and the prices aren't vastly cheaper than Ralph Lauren's either.

Nothing against the Chunk brand, and I admire their tenacity in defending it to date, but there can only be one outcome here. It's a world away from the Specialized/Cafe Roubaix debate last week.

No lawyer I, but... it's a polo shirt with the designer's badge on the left breast and some 1950s preppy/Ivy sports styling; that's not a protectable design of itself. If it were, Ralph Lauren, Hackett, Jack Wills and indeed half the world's other presently-fashionable clothiers would all be on the receiving end of lawsuits from J Press and Brooks Brothers, who codified the much-copied look back in the 1930s.

Secondly, if the combination of logo and clothing design does appear to be a parody of Ralph Lauren's - which would be something for a court to decide, though I would venture that this instance very obviously is - then it's perfectly legal; parody is well-established as non-infringing fair commercial use of IP.

posted by Lord Fishface [24 posts]
16th December 2013 - 17:08

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This really seems like one example where the big company (aka Ralph Lauren) isn't being outrageous. I mean the logos are similar-ish, they are for competing products, and the same market. Even someone with 0 legal experience can't be surprised that RL sued to prevent the use of that logo.

posted by jarredscycling [436 posts]
16th December 2013 - 17:14

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Lord Fishface wrote:

Secondly, if the combination of logo and clothing design does appear to be a parody of Ralph Lauren's - which would be something for a court to decide, though I would venture that this instance very obviously is - then it's perfectly legal; parody is well-established as non-infringing fair commercial use of IP.

it really isn't. or rather it is, but you can't just claim something is a parody and that's that. the regulation of parodies has become increasingly strict.

Quote:

The sole test is whether the defendant’s work has reproduced a substantial part of the plaintiff’s ex hypothesi copyright work. The fact that the defendant in reproducing his work may have himself employed labour and produced something original, or some part of his work which is original, is beside the point if none the less the resulting defendant’s work reproduces without the licence of the plaintiff a substantial part of the plaintiff’s work.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7037 posts]
16th December 2013 - 17:42

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One's a horse and one's a bike. Thats it, isn't it? Confused

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posted by evo111 [19 posts]
16th December 2013 - 18:06

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Dave Atkinson wrote:
... you can't just claim something is a parody and that's that. the regulation of parodies has become increasingly strict.

Fair use is exception-based. The relevant precedent comes from a US case - the UK's fair dealing law lacks a specific parody clause, but precedents from US law can be afforded weight in cases over here - over a cover of Roy Orbison's 'Pretty Woman': "For the purposes of copyright law, the nub of the definitions, and the heart of any parodist's claim to quote from existing material, is the use of some elements of a prior author's composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author's works." (Campbell et al vs. Acuff-Rose, 1994)

In this instance, there's a good prima facie case that taking the image of a polo player - symbolic of the pseudo old-world, faux-aristocratic "lifestyle" look that Lauren peddles - and replacing his pony with a bicycle - both as the working man's transport, and as an inherently comical juxtaposition - constitutes commentary, and is, legally-speaking, "transformative".

I'm not claiming that would constitute a watertight defence, but the case is not nearly as open-and-shut as the majority of those commenting seem to believe; something underlined by the UK courts' decision in Chunk's favour back in April.

As an aside, it's also worth of note that Lauren did indeed attempt to assert a copyright over polo shirts back in 1980s; he lost, and lost badly, since Brooks Brothers were able to cite prior art going back fifty years.

posted by Lord Fishface [24 posts]
16th December 2013 - 20:08

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It's nothing like Specialized/Roubaix, this is very obviously based on the RL logo.

posted by eurotrash [69 posts]
16th December 2013 - 22:58

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eurotrash wrote:
It's nothing like Specialized/Roubaix, this is very obviously based on the RL logo.

Exactly mate, I was with Cafe Roubaix, but this is way too similar, sorry.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [249 posts]
16th December 2013 - 23:08

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Its charming to see so many people pussy footing around the legal niceties when the fact is the Chunk designs are a 100% rip off/parody/inspiration or whatever you want to call it. This is their whole 'shtick' as someone above said. They are blatant copies and the design of the rest of the range is too. So you have better buy one now if you want one cause Chunk are boned on this one.
Don't think I will be getting one though as I can't be bothered answering questions about it if I wear it, and when I can buy a real ralph for a quarter of the price on ebay (avoiding chinese finks.)

David Bowie agrees with me

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posted by bikeboy76 [1050 posts]
16th December 2013 - 23:42

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they are for competing products

I know little of IP law, but I'd have thought you could pretty conclusively demonstrate that there was almost no overlap between the potential markets for these products.

posted by BigDummy [266 posts]
17th December 2013 - 13:52

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BigDummy wrote:

they are for competing products

I know little of IP law, but I'd have thought you could pretty conclusively demonstrate that there was almost no overlap between the potential markets for these products.

They are both fashion products aimed at preppy, reasonably affable, brand aware young men.

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posted by William Black [196 posts]
17th December 2013 - 13:54

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That said, its all very well discussing points of law but those participating in the discussion here may well be potential customers so the opinion of us men and women cycling alongside the Clapham Omnibus (except at left turns, ahem) are still of some value.

posted by allez neg [399 posts]
17th December 2013 - 17:25

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bikeboy76 wrote:
Its charming to see so many people pussy footing around the legal niceties when the fact is the Chunk designs are a 100% rip off/parody/inspiration or whatever you want to call it.

Because it wouldn't do, when commenting on legal news, to discuss the law when we could instead just reiterate "stands to reason, dunnit?" arguments? Ralph Lauren has lost this case once, and lost it again on appeal precisely because the law is more complex and nuanced than your Littlejohn-esque pearls of wisdom understand it to be.

posted by Lord Fishface [24 posts]
17th December 2013 - 18:31

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Hmmm, there's a few people confusing copyright and trademark law here. They're two separate things with two separate sets of objectives and requirements.
Trademark exists to prevent customer confusion, as both of these products are the same thing (unlike the Specialized / Cafe Roubaix case) and the logos are similar (with the key feature being a raised polo mallet) I think RL have a reasonable case to pursue here.
A court will decide, generally on factors such as these: (1) the strength of the mark; (2) the proximity of the goods; (3) the similarity of the marks; (4) evidence of actual confusion; (5) the similarity of marketing channels used; (6) the degree of caution exercised by the typical purchaser; (7) the defendant's intent.
I'm not surprised RL have brought action here.

posted by blinddrew [12 posts]
18th December 2013 - 10:51

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Lord Fishface wrote:
Littlejohn-esque pearls of wisdom

Sir, you have insulted me, Jeeves fetch my gauntlet... I shall see thee on the dueling field. Pistols, swords or bicycles?

David Bowie agrees with me

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1050 posts]
18th December 2013 - 13:02

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parksey wrote:
William Black wrote:
I would say that's pretty fair from Ralph Lauren..

Take a look at chunk as a brand and they really are very similar in style and ethos/target demographic etc you could even say they've aped the Ralph Lauren website, yes one is on a horse and one is on a bike...but come on you don't need to be an expert in IP Law they've even copied Ralph Lauren's bloody 2013 t-shirt designs!

^^Chunk

^^Polo

This.

To me, it's either just a blatant rip-off of the Ralph Lauren "Polo" brand or, if not, at least a tongue-in-cheek parody of it, but neither of which are commercially acceptable. It's not sports-wear, it's clearly fashion-wear and the prices aren't vastly cheaper than Ralph Lauren's either.

Nothing against the Chunk brand, and I admire their tenacity in defending it to date, but there can only be one outcome here. It's a world away from the Specialized/Cafe Roubaix debate last week.

how is that a blatant rip off? the only similarirty is that they are both polo t shirts!
no one owns the polo t shirt.

polo is all in one colour, chunk has differnt colour for arm hems and colar...
its also not purple.
and the logo is different.

sorry but you are wrong

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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posted by hood [99 posts]
18th December 2013 - 15:27

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