Parody Not A Defense When Trademarks Are Confusingly Similar

A recent decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) places some interesting limitations on the parody doctrine in trademark law.  The case is PRL USA Holdings v. Thread Pit, Cancellation No. 92047436 (TTAB May 14, 2012).

Respondent Thread Pit owned a trademark registration for a humorous logo on clothing which depicted a polo player falling off a horse.  Petitioner (a holding company of Ralph Lauren) petitioned to cancel the registration on the ground that there was a likelihood of confusion with Ralph Lauren’s famous polo mark.  Thread Pit defended by claiming its logo was a parody of Ralph Lauren’s Polo mark.

The TTAB rejected Thread Pit’s defense and found for Ralph Lauren, holding that the marks were confusingly similar.  The TTAB emphasized the enormous fame of Ralph Lauren’s POLO mark as well as the similarity of goods sold by the two parties.  Of importance to trademark purveyors and trademark lawyers, the TTAB found that parody is not a defense when two trademarks otherwise are confusingly similar.

It will be interesting to see if there is an appeal and/or if the courts will narrow the parody doctrine in trademark cases as much as the TTAB did.

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