Not your crocodile: Lacoste claims trade mark infringement

The crocodile has become synonymous with the French company Lacoste since 1933, when it was created in partnership with the French tennis player René Lacoste. He was nicknamed the ‘crocodile’ because of his athletic abilities. Consequently, the brand Lacoste is commercially known for its polo shirts and other causal sport attire.

In 2017, the New Zealand Supreme Court revoked Lacoste’s crocodile trademark and made the finding that the brand had failed to use it sufficiently. Thus, the brand Crocodile International was able to secure a victory against it. Subsequently, Lacoste must have become quite aggressive of asserting its trade mark rights against prospective infringers.

Earlier this year, Lacoste filed a complaint with the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida claiming trade mark infringement. The children’s clothing company Vive Le Fete have been issued a cease-and-desist letter, as Lacoste finds that the use of crocodile images on their clothing infringes Lacoste’s crocodile trade mark. However, Vive Le Fete has argued that there will not be any likelihood of confusion between the two brands’ trade marks due to the following:

1) Both brands cater to different audiences (one is known to produce clothes solely for children, and the other is known to produce clothes predominantly for adults); and
2) Vive Le Fete’s use of crocodile imagery on its clothing is one of the many animals that it uses, and it does so indiscriminately.

Due to the logic of the above, Vive Le Fete do not feel that the use of crocodile imagery creates a ‘likelihood of confusion’ that misleads the average consumer to thinking that its clothing was made in collaboration with or by Lacoste. Nevertheless, Lacoste has taken the use of crocodile imagery by Vive Le Fete to be a serious trade mark infringement. Lacoste has threatened Vive Le Fete with trade mark litigation (re. dilution of their brand, trade mark counterfeiting and unfair commercial gains (unfair competition)).

As a precautionary action, Vive le Fete have decided to stop selling any clothing that contains crocodile imagery, as it does not want to provoke Lacoste into costly litigation that it cannot afford.

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