Opinion: Fred Perry’s troubles reveal how vulnerable brands are
Managing IP is part of the Delinian Group, Delinian Limited, 4 Bouverie Street, London, EC4Y 8AX, Registered in England & Wales, Company number 00954730
Copyright © Delinian Limited and its affiliated companies 2024

Accessibility | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Modern Slavery Statement

Opinion: Fred Perry’s troubles reveal how vulnerable brands are

Credit: theartofpics

Forced into retreat by a far-right group, Fred Perry needs to think clearly about how to recover its brand

As a Fred Perry fan, I was disappointed to see that the fashion brand has been defeated – for now, at least – by a detestable US far-right group called the Proud Boys.

Last week the company issued a strongly worded statement disassociating itself from the group, which has appropriated the brand’s famous black-and-yellow polo shirt and “subverted our laurel wreath to their own ends”. It has discontinued sales in the US and Canada until that association has ended. 

For any brand, this represents a living nightmare – losing control of their (intellectual property) assets.

I’ll admit that I was blissfully unware of the Proud Boys until I wrote this article. However, it doesn’t take much internet browsing to realise why they are so controversial. Apparently started as a joke, they are no laughing matter now – with allegations of racism, misogyny and violence being levelled against them. They even cropped up in last night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

What’s unclear is how it came to this. Like many fashion brands, Fred Perry is not shy of enforcing its IP rights, and the company said in its statement that it’s working to pursue any unlawful use of its brand. However, whether through lax policing, lack of clear infringement or something else entirely, the company has found itself having to halt sales and, sadly, appearing defeated.


Fred Perry is certainly not the first fashion company to fall victim to its own success. Back in the early 2000s, another British brand, Burberry, had an almighty fall from grace after becoming associated with undesirable elements of society. The company famously recovered, in part because it repurchased licences from firms that had used its check pattern on a wide range of often unrelated goods, including disposable nappies for dogs.

There are parallels with Fred Perry’s experience, and the company may take solace in some of Burberry’s other winning strategies. After its checked baseball caps became donned widely by British football hooligans and other undesirables, Burberry removed them from sale altogether. However, this was part of a much wider rebrand, something which Fred Perry may not wish to undertake.

For Fred Perry, the danger is waiting too long to take action. All trademark owners know that they must use their rights to avoid losing them and that active enforcement is crucial. Burberry itself understands this all too well – in 2013, China’s trademark office cancelled a mark for the brand’s signature pattern because of non-use.

Which brings us back to Proud Boys: why is it that they have been able to force Fred Perry’s hand? It seems possible that despite its best enforcement efforts to date, Fred Perry has been met with resistance. There is also the practical matter of how Fred Perry could force the group’s members to stop wearing its polo shirts. At least several major platforms including Amazon and Shopify have banned the Proud Boys from selling merchandise on their sites.

It is also possible, of course, that Fred Perry is just taking a timeout while it fortifies its legal case against the group. Most people would certainly hope so, although it is still unclear what solid grounds Fred Perry could rely on. Would it claim trademark infringement based on confusion, or perhaps dilution would be a stronger case? Amid the murkiness, two things seem clear: Fred Perry won’t be able to wait forever, and brands should take note of how easily their assets can be taken.  

more from across site and ros bottom lb

More from across our site

External counsel for automotive companies explain how trends such as AI and vehicle connectivity are affecting their practices and reveal what their clients are prioritising
We provide a rundown of Managing IP’s news and analysis coverage from the week, and review what’s been happening elsewhere in IP
The winners of the awards will be revealed at a gala dinner in New York City on April 25
Counsel debate the potential outcome of SCOTUS’s latest copyright case after justices questioned whether they should dismiss it
Each week Managing IP speaks to a different IP lawyer about their life and career
The small Düsseldorf firm is making a big impact in the UPC. Founding partner Christof Augenstein explains why
The court criticised Oppo’s attempts to delay proceedings and imposed a penalty, adding that the Chinese company may need to pay more if the trial isn’t concluded this year
Miguel Hernandez explains how he secured victory for baby care company Naterra in his first oral argument before the Federal Circuit
The UPC judges are wrong – restricting access to court documents, and making parties appoint a lawyer only to have a chance of seeing them, is madness
The group, which includes the Volkswagen, Seat and Audi brands, is now licensed to use SEPs owned by more than 60 patent owners
Gift this article