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"Life Guard" - Trademark Protected or Not?

By Neetal Parekh on September 04, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We have covered interesting instances of trademark infringement including scenarios involving In-N-Out, Gucci, and Fender guitars,  but this is something intriguing even for our team.  The phrase "Life Guard" -- trademark protected or not?

When Polo Ralph Lauren printed a series of T-shirts with that very phrase the company likely did so in the vein of so many other popular shirts with snappy, suggestive, or quirky phrases.  Besides occupation-related tees sporting "Firefighter", "Undercover Cop", "M.D." or any number of phrases, a stroll in D.C. will undoubtedly lead you to street vendors willing to give you a deal if you buy all three flavors of their printed wearables, "FBI'", "CIA", and "Secret Service".  

So, have you logged in your vote yet?

Turns out,  as innocent as a t-shirt declaring "Life Guard" may seem, the term was indeed trademarked in 1937 by Lifeguard Licensing Corp. of Manhattan.  The company is defending the trademark in court against the designer Polo Ralph Laruen label.  The case has yet to be heard in court, but the filing has already made waves.  And it serves as a reminder to all small businesses to take precaution before venturing into the uncharted waters of profiting from a key word, phrase, or logo.

In bringing forth a claim for trademark infringement, the court will look to whether there is a likelihood that the customer was confused between the two different brands, logos, symbols.  It is up to the defendant to prove that the mark was used in a way as to create confusion about the origin of the good or service or that it was done to deceive the consumer.


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