All they wanted to do was trademark their 16-year-old logo. But instead, Yass businesswomen Megan Philip and Rowena Sylvester are fighting to keep not only their logo, but their business name, having drawn the ire of billion-dollar US clothing giant Ralph Lauren because of similarities to its signature image.
Embroidered onto its range of clothing, Club Polo's logo bears a polo player with a mallet astride a galloping horse, and the letters C and P either side of the image.
Polo / Lauren, a subsidiary of Ralph Lauren clothing, owns the copyright in Australia of a logo depicting a mallet-wielding polo player riding a galloping horse.
Lawyers for the two parties will face off tomorrow before IP Australia, the government agency that administers intellectual property rights.
The powerhouse Ralph Lauren group, which turned over $1.8 billion in the final quarter last year, will argue the Club Polo logo is too similar to its own image and could confuse customers.
Ms Philip rejects the assertion, saying no one has complained about being confused during the past 16 years of using the logo and that there were valid differences within the design, including the orientation of the horse and the lettering.
She designed the logo herself 16 years ago and said it seemed obvious to put a polo horse and stick on a range of clothing specifically designed for polo enthusiasts and horse lovers, especially considering at the time the business sold at polo tournaments around NSW and Victoria.
“It didn't enter our heads about Ralph Lauren - we were serving a niche market - we were not going to put a rugby player on our designs,” she said.
The logo was embroidered onto their clothing range and used for business marketing and stationery, seeing the business expand into designing casual wear too.
Since the objection came to light in 2008, Ms Philip said the wholesale part of the business was put on hold two seasons ago, but Club Polo continued to trade via shopfront and website mail-order.
“We want to keep using it because it's part of who we are,” she said.
“You ask why we don't re-brand? Because it's our name and our logo - it's so intertwined with our business that we'd have to start a whole new entity... I don't think that's fair because we've been trading for 20 years and we've co-existed up until now.”
The results of the legal action will be determined in about three months time, and then the whole process will begin again, this time with objections to their name, she said.
She did not like to consider what would happen if the pair failed in their bid tomorrow.
“We will have to reassess what we can do, and at the moment we don't really want to consider that outcome.”
The matter had been brewing for four years and been “very costly” with legal fees and the need to forego the wholesale part of the business until the matter was settled.