It’s not every day you get a chance to use that phrase in a headline. But, what may become known as the "The Cayman Kerfuffle", presents the perfect opportunity.

Would a reasonable person find these confusingly similar?

         

 

$51,000 Blue Cayman                                                      $30 Blue Cayman

Let’s see, one is a sleek, pricey, well-engineered, high performance sports car that is available in a variety of colors, the other is a stubby, inexpensive, molded plastic clog-like sandal that is also available in a variety of colors. Hmmm.

Even though the Porsche vs. Crocs dust up was discussed widely in November 2009, the seeming inanity still grinds on my nerves. So I can’t resist another airing.

If you missed the coverage, here is the kerfuffle catalyst from the Crocs, Inc. Form 10-Q:

"On May 11, 2009, Crocs Europe B.V. received a letter from Dr. Ing. H.c.F. Porsche AG ("Porsche") claiming that the Company’s use of the "Cayman" shoe model designator infringes upon their Community Trademark Registration of the mark "CAYMAN" in class 25. Porsche is requesting that Crocs Europe B.V. immediately cease and desist use of the Cayman mark and pay Porsche’s attorney’s fees in conjunction with the issuance of the notice letter. On July 30, 2009 the Company was served with notice of an injunction against Crocs Europe BV’s use of the Cayman mark in Germany. The Company intends to vigorously defend itself against these claims."

Granted, Porsche has a registered trademark for "Cayman" in several international classes including 025, which does encompass footwear, and sells a line of Porsche Design shoes, although, apparently, not under the Cayman label.

I might understand Porsche being embarrassed by the possible association with the popular foam resin clogs spotted on the feet of celeb-kinder in Hollywood, South Beach, and other trendy locales. But infringement? Seriously? Shouldn’t Porsche be more embarrassed for making this an issue? Likelihood of confusion is doubtful, unless Porsche dramatically changes its fashion strategy.

Realistically, few people will confuse Crocs Cayman clogs for a Porsche Cayman sports car or one of their designer driving shoes. Fewer still will think they originate from Porsche. Should they, a quick check of the Crocs logo on the shoe itself would correct any incertitude.

Several thoughts arise: Since the Crocs Cayman line was available commercially as early as 2004, five years before the registration issue date of April 2009 for Porsche, does Crocs have prior rights? Should International Truck Intellectual Property Company, owner of the Cayman trademark in International Class 012, which includes sports cars, seek redress from Porsche for infringement? Should Lacoste file an amicus brief since they have an oblique interest? After all, a Cayman is a type of alligator, and should Porsche prevail — I don’t see how, but lets pretend – based on their interpretation of infringement and confusion, the Lacoste logo, shown below, would be a likely next target.

Stay with me on this. It is probable that people driving Porsche Caymans could also be wearing Lacoste clothing, so confusion of origin is surely immanent. Hey, is that a Cayman polo shirt you’re wearing?

On the subject of confusion, perhaps the Cayman Islands should pursue Porsche and Crocs for infringement. It is likely to find both products on the Islands, even at the same time and place, and wouldn’t the Cayman Islands have prior rights, if we follow the labyrinthic logic in this argument? Toss in people wearing Lacoste fashions, and since most can’t tell a Cayman from a run of the pond alligator, it could start a whole reptilian-brand confusion-fest and who knows where that would lead!

This could become a Trademark Infringement Smackdown with, say, Crocodile Dundee headlining. Although, come to think of it, this has certain "The Real Housewives of Intellectual Property" (surely an oxymoron) qualities to it and could spawn a new reality series on Bravo. The notion is no more ridiculous than the Porsche accusation — and indubitably more entertaining. 

OK, my tongue is tired of being in my cheek.

The old maxim "just because you can, doesn’t mean you should" seems apropos. The ill will engendered by overly aggressive enforcement, where likelihood of harm is not apparent, is damaging to a brand, even one as famous and resilient as Porsche. It will likely appear to consumers as needless bullying. That perception can cost far more to rectify than any possible impact of the perceived infringement.

Who’s the likely winner in this spat? Certainly not Porsche. Crocs stands to gain from the publicity generated by this action. It is not exactly the way a company wants to gain visibility, but as a creative guy managing brands, I’d take what I get and spin it into branding silk – at the expense of Porsche, of course.

Randall Hull, The Br@nd Ranch®

  • The Cayman / Cayman broo-ha-ha is intellectual property posturing at its absolute worst. So thanks for calling foul on this.
    This case was one of the things that got me musing about the idea of “Intellectual Property Extremism” last week:
    http://www.begtodiffer.com/2010/01/gladwell-ip-extremism/

  • Thank you Dennis for your comment. I enjoyed reading your article as well. Protecting IP is an important function for branders and marketers but can be taken to the extreme. Looking for synergy is better — for example MCA Records and Mattel realizing “Barbie Girl” and Barbie can live in peace and profitability, if the respective owners just look a little deeper. “Suit first, think later” isn’t a good practice for business.