Ralph Lauren: too much of a good thing?
Ralph Lauren outlet stores are a fixture around Mauritius - just about every small town seems to have one. The garments sold in these stores carry the small image of a polo rider on a horse, the trademark of the tony Ralph Lauren and Polo lines. But things aren't what they seem: every one of these garments sold in the so-called original Ralph Lauren factory outlet stores is a fake.
But selling these items under the Ralph Lauren name - even the labels are cleverly copied to look like the real ones - is legal in Mauritius, at least under current Mauritian law.
The issue of counterfeit production and trademark protection is getting some attention both inside and outside of Mauritius. The Mauritian government has passed strict new laws on intellectual property that contain clear enforcement procedures and provide for heavy penalties such as steep fines and imprisonment. But the laws are not retroactive to counterfeiting started before January, 2003, when the law took effect.
Outside Mauritius, the issue has gotten some coverage in the American press, most recently in an article in the April edition of WWD, a magazine that covers the clothing and textile industries. Called "Polo Battles Copies on Mauritius Island," the article by Bambina Wise recounts the history of Ralph Lauren counterfeiting in Mauritius. It was started in 1992 when Aurdally Bros. & Co. registered the Ralph Lauren trademark with Mauritian Customs. Aurdally was one of the first companies to set up garment manufacturing facilities on the island, primarily for the domestic market, the article said. In 1998, another company called Captain Tasman paid Aurdally a licensing fee to manufacture T-shirts, polos and oxford shirts with the Lauren label. The idea was to sell on the Mauritian market.
Polo Ralph Lauren, based in New York, lodged a complaint in 1998, and the Mauritian government refused to renew the local trademark, pending an investigation. In the meantime, other companies began making Lauren garments, seeing an opportunity for profit.
The scale of counterfeiting of Lauren products in Mauritius is enormous, the article said, but it isn't the only illegitimate use of trademarks: other well-know brands are illegally reproduced: Replay, Diesel, RipCurl, Versace, Calvin Klein and Kenzo.
"This is a hugely profitable industry," said Marcel Lapierre, a Mauritian entrepreneur who recently set up Fakebusters, a company that specializes in policing and safeguarding intellectual property. "It easily brings in between ($33 million to $67 million t o Mauritian companies selling products with Polo label) a year, at least," he told the magazine.