After photos surfaced online showing a Ralph Lauren sweater with a logo that bore a striking resemblance to the Marine Corps’ Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem, the service issued a response, and now it’s gone from the designer’s site.
Earlier this week in a raucous corner of Twitter, a number of veterans and service members let out a collective “what the fuck?” after The Warax, a prominent veterans social media account, shared a series of photos showing designer clothes — including one with a familiar looking symbol.
The item in question, a Fleece Graphic Sweatshirt from Ralph Lauren, was originally priced at $125, but was marked down to just $34.99. As Task & Purpose previously reported, the sweater’s design was visiaully similar to the Marines’ EGA, except that it had a pair of anchors instead of just one, and a slightly modified backdrop.
Screenshot via Ralph Lauren
At the time, the Marine Corps’ Trademark Licensing Office, which oversees and protects the service’s intellectual property, could not say whether or not the sweater violated the service’s trademarks. But today, they confirmed that yes, it most certainly did, and that the service had issued a response to the clothing designer.
What’s more, they did it with tact, you know JJ DID TIE BUCKLE, and all that.
“It was kind of a ‘hey, you might not be aware, but we’re the owner of multiple trademarks and this one looks like ours, so we’d appreciate it if you didn’t sell it,’ basically like that,” Jessica O’Haver, the director of the Trademark Licensing Office told Task & Purpose.
Apparently that did the trick.
As of Jan. 31, the page for the sweater is no longer live, and a spokesperson for Ralph Lauren confirmed that the sweater was taken down.
“Although this sweatshirt went through legal and trademark review, we understand that our interpretation was unacceptable to the Marine Corps and immediately removed the product,” the spokesperson told Task & Purpose. “We appreciate their reaching out about this issue.”
While the sweater may have made a little splash on social media, it turns out that the designer’s take on a PT sweater, while perfect for formation runs of Ralph Lauren’s Marauders, is actually the least of the Trademark Licensing Office’s worries these days.
The most pressing concern: online markets. Unlike established brands, fly-by-night e-stores can crop up and quickly begin selling goods with, well, questionable legal claim to some of the intellectual property featured. And even if they get smacked down for trademark violations, they’re able to slap together another item and continue hawking their mil-inspired wares at the cyclic rate.
If you thought that other sweater was bad, here’s a recent example provided to Task & Purpose by the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office, which shows a Marine Corps inspired hoodie by Templaran.
Screenshot courtesy of the Marine Corps Trademark Licensing Office
“They come out with these different versions, and we play whack-a-mole with them, where they’ll pop one up and we’ll take it down and the next day, it’ll be MARPAT design and we’ll remove that one,” O’Haver said of pop-up e-stores.
While O’Haver’s office issues as many as 150 trademark notifications to potential violators of their IP each week, it can be tough to keep up. In many cases these products come to light after current and former service members “deputize themselves” and track down the potential infringements, O’Haver told Task & Purpose.
“I had five Marines text me directly because they knew immediately that it was a violation,” she said of the hoodie from Templaran. Similarly, a number of Twitter users did the same thing with the Ralph Lauren sweater earlier this week, and sent up the social media equivalent of a red star cluster.
“This Ralph Lauren one isn’t that exciting, but these e-markets are a challenge,” O’Haver added. “They’re the ones where I come to work every day and I want to check on them.”
Which is probably a good call, because there’s already another very familiar military-inspired hoodie out there:
Updated Jan. 31, 2019: This story was updated to include a statement from Ralph Lauren.